Colon, or colorectal, cancer starts in the large intestine (colon) or the rectum (end of the colon). Unfortunately, colorectal cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in the United States. However, early diagnosis can often lead to a complete cure.
There is no single cause of colon cancer. Nearly all colon cancers begin as noncancerous (benign) polyps, which slowly develop into cancer.
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You have a higher risk for colon cancer if you:
Many cases of colon cancer have no symptoms. The following symptoms, however, may indicate colon cancer:
With proper screening, colon cancer can be detected before symptoms develop, when it is most curable.
Your doctor will perform a physical exam and press on your belly area. The physical exam rarely shows any problems. A rectal exam may reveal a mass in patients with rectal cancer, but not colon cancer.
A fecal occult blood test (FOBT) may detect small amounts of blood in the stool, which could suggest colon cancer. However, this test is often negative in patients with colon cancer. For this reason, a FOBT must be done along with colonoscopy. It is also important to note that a positive FOBT doesn't necessarily mean you have cancer.
Only a colonoscopy can see the entire colon, and this is the best screening test for colon cancer.
Treatment depends on many things, including the stage of the cancer. In general, treatments may include: