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About Colon Cancer

Colon cancer is cancer of the colon, also known as the large intestine or bowel. The large intestine makes up the last part of the digestive tract, following the small intestine and ending with the rectum.

Colon cancer and bowel cancer refer to the same disease. Colon cancer develops from a polyp or growth that arises in the lining of the intestine. When caught early, colon cancer is highly treatable.

Keeping up to date with colorectal cancer screening is an important part of prevention. A screening test checks for colorectal cancer when there are no signs and symptoms of the disease. Participating in screening helps to remove precancerous polyps before they become cancerous and helps to detect colorectal cancer at an earlier stage, when the cancer is more treatable.

Early-stage disease can present very minor or even non-existent colorectal cancer symptoms, underlining the importance of keeping up to date with colon cancer screening.

Learn more about colorectal cancer screening.

COMMON SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF COLON CANCER

  • Changes in bowel habits not explained, like constipation or diarrhea
  • The urge to have a bowel movement but nothing passes, also called Tenesmus
  • Anemia due to iron deficiency
  • Change in size/shape of stools, such as being narrower than usual
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Blood in or on the stool, ranging from bright red to dark black
  • Consistent abdominal pain or discomfort, including bloating, fullness, cramping and gas pain
  • Unexplained weight loss
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Many of these signs may also be caused by other less serious gastrointestinal conditions, such as Crohn’s disease, ulcers or hemorrhoids, but they should always be discussed with your doctor to receive the correct diagnosis. If you are experiencing any signs or symptoms, be sure to talk to your doctor without delay.

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RISK FACTORS OF DEVELOPING COLON CANCER

  • Age – your risk increases as you get older
  • Inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
  • A personal or family history of colorectal cancer or colorectal polyps
  • An inherited syndrome such as Lynch syndrome or familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)

Learn more about colorectal cancer risk factors.

Certain lifestyle factors may also contribute to an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer:

  • Lack of physical activity
  • A diet low in fruits and vegetables
  • A low-fibre and high-fat diet, or a diet that is high in processed meats
  • Overweight and obesity
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Excessive tobacco use

Cancer type (colon or rectal), location, stage, biomarkers expressed in your tumour, and general health will determine which treatment is right for you. Understanding your treatment options is important so that you can participate in making informed decisions together with your doctors.

Planning colorectal cancer treatment can take time. It is always recommended to get a second or even third opinion before embarking on any treatment plan. Treatment may include chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, targeted therapies, immunotherapy, or a combination of therapies, and may also involve participating in clinical trials. Be sure to discuss the full range of treatment options available to you with your medical team before making any decisions.

Learn more about colorectal cancer treatment.

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