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Patient Information

Colon cancer is cancer that starts in the large intestine (also known as the colon), which is in the lower part of the digestive tract.

WakeMed’s colorectal surgeons provide expert care to help colon cancer patients lead longer and healthier lives through early detection, a range of treatment options, and individualized and collaborative care.

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What Are the Symptoms and Risk Factors of Colon Cancer?

Many people experience no symptoms of colon cancer. However, colon cancer symptoms can include:

  • Rectal bleeding or blood in stool
  • Abdominal pain
  • Cramps that won’t go away
  • A change in bowel habits
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Weakness and fatigue

If you’re experiencing these symptoms, make an appointment to see a gastroenterologist.

Those with a Higher Risk of Colon Cancer 

  • Are 50 years of age or older
  • Are African American or of eastern European descent
  • Have colon polyps
  • Have inflammatory bowel disease, like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
  • Have a family history of colon cancer
  • Smoke or drink alcohol
  • Eat a lot of red or processed meats

Hereditary colon cancer is a less common classification of colon cancer that’s found in 4 to 6 percent of incidences of colon cancer. It is associated with an inherited genetic abnormality. Some of the syndromes that can predispose people to hereditary colon cancer include Lynch syndrome (or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer) and familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP).

How Is Colon Cancer Diagnosed?

Early detection is the best way to effectively treat colon cancer. A colonoscopy looks at the inner lining of the colon to check for polyps or cancer. Colon polyps are growths in the colon that can turn into cancer over time.

Regular colonoscopies are recommended every ten years for people over the age of 50.

Patients who are experiencing the symptoms above, however, may also need to get one. Additionally, people with inflammatory bowel disease, a family history of colon cancer, or a history of colon polyps should get them more frequently.

If the results from a colonoscopy determine that it’s colon cancer, we may perform more tests to see if the cancer has spread, including:

  • Blood tests
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan

How Is Colon Cancer Treated?

At WakeMed, we work collaboratively to create a customized treatment plan for each patient. Depending on the stage of the cancer, or how far it’s spread, treatment can include:

  • Removing polyps during a colonoscopy
  • Minimally invasive surgery to remove larger polyps
  • Surgery to remove the part of the colon that has the cancer
  • Chemotherapy, which uses drugs to destroy cancer cells
  • Radiation therapy, which uses radiation to destroy cancer cells
  • Targeted therapy, which can be helpful for patients with advanced colon cancer

What Does Surgical Treatment Involve?  

Thanks to minimally invasive laparoscopy and robotic surgery, surgeons can often perform surgery for colon cancer without making large incisions.

In robotic or laparoscopic colon surgery, the surgeon operates through four or five tiny openings that are no more than one quarter of an inch in size. One incision site gives access to a camera that helps the surgeon visualize the colon and surrounding region. The surgeon can carefully remove the part of the diseased or damaged colon through the other incision sites.

Learn more about what to expect from colorectal surgery.