Colon cancer is cancer in the tissue of the large intestine or colon. The condition appears initially as small, noncancerous groups of cells known as polyps. Over time, these polyps grow into cancer cells.
There are often no symptoms until the condition progresses to cancer. At that point, patients may experience stomach problems, including:
- Diarrhea, constipation or nausea
- Blood in the stool
- Frequent gas pain, cramping or bloating
- Weight loss
Tests used to diagnose colon cancer include:
- Fecal occult blood test
- Barium enema
- Virtual colonoscopy (for patients who cannot undergo a traditional colonoscopy)
These are used by physicians to get a view of the colon or test for blood in the stool. The tests can also help determine the stage of cancer:
- Stage 1 – the cancer is only in the colon
- Stage 2 – the cancer has spread in or through the colon’s wall
- Stage 3 – the cancer is in the lymph nodes
- Stage 4 – the cancer has spread to other organs like the liver
Four types of treatment are used. Your physician will choose the best one for you based on the stage of the cancer’s progression and other factors.
- Drug Therapy
Surgery may be used to remove tumors during a colonoscopy for small cancers. For more advanced cases, it can be used to remove the part of the colon impacted by the cancer.
Chemotherapy destroys cancer cells. It is used to control the growth of tumors, improve symptoms for people in advanced stages and to reduce the chance that the cancer will spread after surgery.
Radiation therapy, like chemotherapy, is used to destroy cancer cells. Radiation is often used only in patients in advanced stages of cancer, particularly if it has spread to the liver. It is often used in conjunction with chemotherapy.
Drug therapy is used to stop the growth of tumors, kill the cells or keep them from spreading into other areas of the body.
To find out more about colon cancer, see the National Cancer Institute or the American Cancer Society.