Symptoms & Risks

What is colon cancer?

When cells in the body grow out of control, they become cancer. When this happens in the colon, it is known as colon cancer. Colon cancer is also sometimes called colorectal cancer.

Is colon cancer the same as rectal cancer?

They are not technically the same cancer, but they have many features in common. However, the treatments for both diseases are different.

How common is colon cancer?

Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in the U.S. More than 135,000 people will be diagnosed with colon cancer this year. This means that about one in 20 people will be diagnosed with colon cancer during their lifetime.

Who can get colon cancer?

Anyone can get colon cancer, but you are at higher risk if you have a parent, sibling or child who has colon cancer. African-Americans and Ashkenazi Jews are also at higher risk of the disease.

What are the other risk factors?

There are several risk factors for colon cancer, including:

  • Being over 50
  • Family history of colon cancer or polyps, some of which may be precancerous growths
  • Having rare gene changes, or mutations
  • Smoking
  • A high-fat diet

It is important to note that having one or more risk factors does not mean you will or will not get colon cancer. Talk to your doctor if you think you are at risk for this cancer.

What are the symptoms?

When colon cancer first develops, you will probably not notice any symptoms. If you do notice changes, they may include:

  • A change in bowel habits, like diarrhea, constipation or narrowing stool width
  • Stomach discomfort, such as cramps and gas
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Weight loss for no known reason
  • Fatigue

If you notice these symptoms, it is important to tell your doctor.

How can I prevent colon cancer?

Colon cancer usually starts out as a polyp before it turns into cancer. With regular screening exams, your polyps can be found and removed before they turn into cancer. Also, these steps can help lower your risk:

  • Exercise often
  • Talk to your doctor about your family history and how often you should check for colon cancer
  • Do not smoke
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables