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More than 106,000 people in this country are diagnosed with colon cancer each year, according to the American Cancer Society.
One in 19 people, or a little more than 5%, of Americans will develop colon or rectal cancer in their lifetimes. When colon cancer is diagnosed early, it has nearly a 90% chance for cure.
The colon is part of the digestive system, also called the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
- The colon is the first six feet of the large intestine, also called the large bowel
- The rectum is the last six inches of the large intestine, which ends in the anus
Colorectal cancers grow slowly. They usually start as polyps, which are overgrowths of tissue in the lining of the colon. Colon cancer may start within a polyp, but not all polyps contain cancer.
Colon cancer survival rates have increased over the past 15 years. Because of screening, polyps often are found and removed before they become cancer. Also, treatments have become more advanced and less invasive.
Types of Colon Cancer
More than 95% of colorectal cancers are adenocarcinomas. Approximately 90% of colorectal adenocarcinomas began as adenomas, which are a type of polyp that may become cancer.
About 20% of colon cancers are inherited or are associated with a strong history of colon cancer in the family. The main types of colon cancer that are inherited include:
Hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer syndrome or HNPCC (also called Lynch syndrome), accounts for 5% to 7% of colon cancers.
Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) causes hundreds to thousands of polyps in the GI tract. FAP may begin during childhood.
Colon Cancer Risk Factors
Anything that increases your chance of getting colon cancer is a risk factor. Colon cancer risk factors include:
- Family history of colon cancer, rectal cancer or polyps
- Hereditary cancer syndromes such as hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC or Lynch) syndrome or familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)
- Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease or chronic ulcerative colitis)
- Colorectal cancer or polyps
- Lack of exercise
- Diet: If you eat a lot of red meat, processed meats or meats cooked at very high heat, you may be at higher risk for colon cancer
- Diabetes Type 2
- Cigarette smoking
- Drinking too much alcohol
For patients concerned about inherited family syndromes that cause colon cancer, we offer advanced genetic testing to let you know your risk.
Colon Cancer Prevention
Certain lifestyle choices may decrease your chances of getting colon cancer. Try to:
- Have regular screening tests
- Stay at a healthy weight
- Exercise regularly
- Eat a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables
- Avoid cigarettes
- Drink alcohol only in moderation
Visit our prevention and screening section to learn how to manage your colon cancer risk.
Learn more about colon cancer:
Why choose MD Anderson for colon cancer care?
At MD Anderson's Colorectal Center, your colon cancer treatment is personalized to provide the best outcomes, while focusing on your quality of life. We offer leading-edge treatments for colon cancer, including minimally invasive laparoscopic and robotic surgeries that provide successful treatment with less impact on you.
Specialized Colon Cancer Treatments
If chemotherapy is needed to treat colon cancer, MD Anderson offers the newest options. Our internationally renowned team of physicians directs your therapy for the most benefit, while minimizing the impact on your body.
Sometimes radiation therapy is recommended as a part of colon cancer treatment. Our colorectal radiation oncologists specialize in treating patients with colon cancer using advanced techniques that include proton therapy.
MD Anderson has special expertise in treating stage 4 colon cancer that has metastasized (spread) to other parts of the body. We offer novel chemotherapy and targeted therapy options, as well as a dedicated surgery program.
Our advanced knowledge in cancer genetics can help diagnose and treat inherited family syndromes that may increase risk of colon cancer. This expertise also helps us work with you to plan the most effective treatment for your specific condition.
As one of the world’s largest cancer research centers, MD Anderson is a leading center for the investigation into new methods of colon cancer treatment and diagnosis. Each patient benefits from the most advanced research.
Be in touch with your body. If something feels new or weird, please don’t wait to see the doctor.
Colorectal Cancer Moon Shot
MD Anderson’s Colorectal Cancer Moon Shot® aims to rapidly and dramatically improve the disease’s survival rates and reduce suffering through prevention, early detection, research and new treatments.Learn more about the Colorectal Cancer Moon Shot
Survivor: How I found hope at MD Anderson
"In April 2013, I was a 37-year-old pediatrician with a busy practice and a hectic family life. I didn’t have time to be sick," says Anatole Karpovs, M.D.
Colorectal cancer diagnosis caught me by surprise
"My journey with colorectal cancer began suddenly and unexpectedly. One day I was feeling OK and the next, after a painful night, I found myself in surgery," says Paula Carrillo.
Colorectal cancer taught me to listen to my body
"Your body knows when something’s not right, and it will give you signs, so pay attention. Take care of yourself, because you’re worth it," says Abigail Pardo.