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Colon & Colorectal Cancer

Colon & Colorectal Cancer: Utah’s 3rd Most Common Cancer

What is colon and colorectal cancer?

Colon or colorectal cancer (terms used interchangeably in this article) is the third most common cancer diagnosis in Utah, excluding skin cancers. It affects both men and women. This cancer may begin in the upper part of the large intestine (the lower part of your digestive system) or the lower part of the large intestine. In the upper part, it may be called “colon cancer,” and in the lower part it may be referred to as “rectal cancer.” In most instances, however, patients and care providers simply refer to the condition as colon or colorectal cancer. This is because it is common for both the colon and the rectum to be simultaneously affected.

The majority of colon cancers begin as benign polyps inside the colon. These polyps are fairly normal and may not even present any symptoms. In some people, however, the polyps become cancerous. This is one reason why regular screening is so important in at-risk populations.

According to the National Cancer Institute, colorectal cancer affects approximately 147,500 individuals per year with a fairly even split between men and women. On the whole, incidence and mortality rate are both decreasing. This may be due to both advances in detection and screening, as well as medical therapies, such as the ones offered by providers at Jordan Valley Cancer Center.

What are the risk factors for colon and colorectal cancer?

While the exact reason is unknown, some studies suggest that a typical Western diet that is high in animal fat and low in fiber can increase risk. Other cases of colon cancer are caused by inherited gene mutations. The more common of these two syndromes are “hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer” and “familial adenomatous polyposis.”

The following factors may increase an individuals’ risk of colon cancer:

  • Being 50 years of age or older
  • Being African-American
  • Having a personal history of colon cancer and/or adenomatous polyps
  • Having a family history of colorectal cancer or female genital cancer
  • Having stomach pain, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
  • Having the genetic syndromes discussed above
  • Eating a diet that is low in fiber and high in fat
  • Having a sedentary lifestyle
  • Having diabetes
  • Being obese
  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol heavily
  • Having had radiation therapy for cancer in the abdomen

Are there symptoms of colon and colorectal cancer?

Symptoms of colon cancer can be quite similar to symptoms caused by other gastrointestinal illnesses or stomach issues. If you experience any of the following symptoms for two weeks or more, see a health care provider for an evaluation:

  • Continuous diarrhea or constipation with no other explanation
  • Blood in or on the stool
  • Narrow stools
  • Unexplained iron deficiency anemia
  • Abdominal pain that comes and goes

Individuals with rectal cancer may experience the following symptoms:

  • Blood in the stool
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive straining on the toilet, but no elimination
  • Feeling an urgent need to have a bowel movement
  • Feeling that the bowels have not been fully eliminated after a movement

How do you screen for and detect colon and colorectal cancer?

Colon cancer screenings are recommended for most individuals beginning at the age of 50. Screenings have been proven to reduce the mortality rate and improve patient outcomes. If you have a family history of colon cancer and/or are African American or American Indian, you may consider beginning regular screenings at age 45. Patients have several options.

A colonoscopy is a long, flexible tube with a video camera attached that runs through the entire colon and rectum. Biopsies can be taken and the physician can look for any abnormalities. Blood testing is a second option that can offer information about your overall health, including liver and kidney function. A blood test will not provide a definitive report, however.

The Stages of Colon and Colorectal Cancer

The good news is that early stage colorectal cancer has a high survival rate. Stage 0 has a >96% survival rate, while Stage 1 has an 80-95% survival rate. Oncologists at Jordan Valley Cancer Center stage colorectal cancer in this way…

  • Stage 0: Abnormal cells found in the mucosa of the colon wall.
  • Stage I: Abnormal cells are found to be cancerous, but have not gone beyond the colon’s muscle wall.
  • Stage II: Cancer has gone through or into the wall, but not to the lymph nodes.
  • Stage III: Cancer has invaded local lymph nodes, but not gone out to the rest of the body.
  • Stage IV: Cancer has spread via blood or lymph nodes to remote areas of the body.

How do you treat colon and colorectal cancer?

There are many types of treatments that can be effective in addressing colorectal cancer. At Jordan Valley Cancer Center, patients have the opportunity to discuss a wide variety of treatment options with specialists from diverse backgrounds in oncology. This integrative approach allows patients to receive the most appropriate treatment for their unique needs. Select a therapy below to learn more about it:

The Patient Experience at Jordan Valley Cancer Center

At Jordan Valley Cancer Center, patients receive integrative cancer care under the guidance of a Nurse Navigator, whose role is to help you understand your options and answer any questions you may have about different treatments and procedures. This unique experience at Jordan Valley Cancer Center is now improving treatment opportunities for patients in West Jordan. For more information, contact us at 801-601-2260.