What is colon cancer?

by Rosemary Devlin
posted on November 14th 2013
What is colon cancer?

Definition of colon cancer: Cancer that forms in the tissues of the colon (the longest part of the large intestine). Most colon cancers are adenocarcinomas (cancers that begin in cells that make and release mucus and other fluids).

Colorectal cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in the United States. Early diagnosis, though, can often lead to a complete cure.

Almost all colon cancers start in glands in the lining of the colon and rectum. When doctors talk about colorectal cancer, this is usually what they are talking about.

There is no single cause of colon cancer. Nearly all colon cancers begin as noncancerous (benign) polyps, which slowly develop into cancer.

According to the National Cancer Institute, in 2013 about 143,000 people in the United States will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer. It is the fourth most common cancer in men, after skin, prostate, and lung cancer. It is also the fourth most common cancer in women, after skin, breast, and lung cancer.

Some indications that you have a high risk of colon cancer are:

  • If you are older than 60
  • If you are African American of eastern European descent
  • If you eat a lot of red or processed meats
  • If you have colorectal polyps
  • If you have inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis)
  • If you have a family history of colon cancer
  • If you have a personal history of breast cancer

Certain inherited diseases can also increase the risk of developing colon cancer. Two of the most common are:

  • Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)
  • Hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), also known as Lynch syndrome

What we eat may also play a role in our risk of colon cancer. Colon cancer may be linked to a high-fat, low-fiber diet and to a high intake of red meat. Smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol are other risk factors for colorectal cancer.


Many cases of colon cancer have no symptoms.  However, the following symptoms may indicate colon cancer:

  • Abdominal pain and soreness in the lower abdomen
  • Blood in your stool
  • Diarrhea, constipation, or other change in bowel habits
  • Narrow stools
  • Weight loss with no known reason

In the next couple of weeks we will publish a blog article on ways of preventing colon cancer, with a ‘to-do’ list.


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