Colon Cancer

Colon cancer is a disease caused by cancerous cells that grow in the tissues and muscles of the colon. The colon is the first part of the large intestine. It helps convert digested food into waste that leaves the body as stool.

Colon cancer (also called large bowel cancer) is the fourth most common cancer in the U.S., diagnosed in nearly 100,000 people each year . Henry Ford cancer specialists have extensive experience diagnosing and treating colon cancer.

Learn more about colorectal cancer diagnosis or about our colon cancer specialists.

Why should I choose Henry Ford for colon cancer care?

People from across Michigan choose our program for our comprehensive colon cancer care:

  • Screening options for early detection: When colon cancer is caught early, it’s highly treatable. Our Open Access Colonoscopy program lets you schedule a colonoscopy without a prior appointment. We also offer alternative colorectal cancer screening tests.
  • Advanced colon cancer treatment: We perform complex colon cancer surgery, including robot-assisted and minimally invasive procedures. Ours is also one of the most experienced programs in the country providing stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) for colon cancer that spreads. This noninvasive radiation therapy precisely targets tumors and spares healthy tissue.
  • Access to innovative clinical trials: We offer access to clinical trials that test new therapies not yet widely available. Our team is the first in the country to perform a clinical trial procedure designed to help patients undergoing gastrointestinal resection from colorectal cancer treatment. The procedure uses an intraluminal device that is temporarily inserted into the gastrointestinal tract to reduce the need for an ostomy bag, eliminating additional surgery and recovery for the patient. Henry Ford is the only site in Michigan, and one of a select few throughout the country, currently enrolling colorectal cancer patients in this clinical trial.
  • Education and support: We’re there for you before, during and after colon cancer treatment. We prepare you for what to expect from colorectal cancer care. We also connect you with others who understand what you’re going through. Learn more about our colorectal cancer support services.

Colon cancer symptoms

People with colon cancer may have symptoms similar to those of other gastrointestinal disorders such as hemorrhoids or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). If you experience potential colon cancer symptoms, it’s important to schedule an appointment with a colon cancer specialist.

Potential colon cancer signs include:

  • Bowel obstruction
  • Cramping or pain in the abdomen
  • Diarrhea, constipation or narrow stool
  • Persistent pressure or feeling the need to have a bowel movement
  • Rectal bleeding, dark stool or blood in the stool
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Weakness and fatigue

Colon cancer causes and risk factors

Doctors do not yet know what causes most colon cancers. But certain factors can increase your risk for developing colon cancer. Some you can change (such as lifestyle choices) and some you can’t (such as inherited genetics).

Colon cancer risk factors include:

  • Age: More than 90 percent of people with colon cancer are older than 40, though colon cancer can affect people of any age. Colon cancer diagnosed at a young age may have a genetic link, so we may recommend genetic counseling.
  • Family history: As many as one in five people diagnosed with colon cancer have other family members who also had the disease. In some cases, an inherited genetic syndrome runs in these families, with Henry Ford’s Cancer Genetics Program able to provide counseling and testing. Inherited syndromes that raise colon cancer risk include:
    • Familial adenomatous polyposis
    • Peutz-Jeghers syndrome
    • Lynch syndrome, or hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer syndrome (HNPCC)
  • Colon polyps: These abnormal growths may develop into colon cancer.
  • Lifestyle choices: Obesity, smoking, heavy alcohol use and eating a diet high in red meat have been linked to colon cancer.
  • Ulcerative colitis: This inflammatory bowel disease can cause colon cancer over time. Learn more about ulcerative colitis.

Colon cancer treatment

We provide tailored colon cancer treatment, with safe therapies to effectively treat the disease, minimize side effects and avoid damage to healthy tissue.

Colon cancer treatment typically involves surgery, with most of our procedures avoiding the need for a permanent ostomy. More advanced cancers may also need chemotherapy, or targeted radiation therapy for cancers that have spread. Learn more about our colorectal cancer treatment.

Learn more about our colorectal cancer treatment.

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  • What you need to know about polyps

    Polyps are abnormal growths in the colon that may turn into cancer if left untreated. Polyps can:

    • Be large or small. Bigger polyps are more likely to be precancerous, which means they might lead to cancer.
    • Grow directly on the colon, or from a stalk. Polyps with a stalk are less likely to become cancerous.
    • Swell into the colon or rectum.

    When doctors find polyps during colonoscopy, they often remove them immediately. This approach can decrease your risk of colon cancer.

    Physicians may use one of two techniques to remove polyps. They can:

    • Destroy small polyps using an electrical current, called electrosurgery
    •  Use a wire loop to snare and remove larger polyps

    Your doctor will send the polyps to a pathology lab for more testing. It can take about a week to receive the results. If your doctor finds polyps during your colonoscopy, you may need further tests for an accurate diagnosis.

  • What to expect during a colonoscopy

    A colonoscopy takes about 30 minutes, but it requires some preparation. A day or two before a colonoscopy, your doctor will ask you to complete a bowel prep. This includes a liquid diet and strong laxatives to empty your colon -- stay near a bathroom as you may need to go frequently.

    Here’s what to expect the day of the appointment:

    1. The doctor will give you medicine so you will sleep through the colonoscopy and not feel any discomfort. You will need someone to go with you to the appointment, wait while you have the exam, and drive you home.
    2. In a private room, a colorectal surgeon or gastroenterologist (a doctor who specializes in the intestinal tract and digestive organs) will use a colonoscope -- a thin tube, about the size of a finger, with a light and a tiny camera on the end.
    3. The physician will carefully guide the colonoscope through the rectum and into the colon to view images of the inside of your colon on a screen.

    You can go home after the test. You will probably still be sleepy from the medicine, but you can return to your usual activities the next day. Your physician will call you with the results of your colonoscopy.

  • Understanding your colonoscopy results

    Negative results mean the doctor did not find polyps. Your physician will advise you on when you should have another screening. If the doctor finds polyps, the doctor will biopsy the polyps they remove and examine the tissues for cancer under a microscope.

    • Precancerous polyps require regular follow-up colonoscopies. Your doctor might recommend additional procedures or testing right away.
    • Cancerous polyps require more treatment. Your doctor will explain our team’s recommendations to develop a treatment plan.
  • Open Access Colonoscopy

    We offer a service called Open Access Colonoscopy. Patients can schedule routine screening colonoscopies without first going to a gastroenterologist. This saves patients time and money.

    You may schedule an Open Access Colonoscopy as long as you are:

    • Between 50 and 80 years old
    • Referred to the endoscopist by the primary care physician

    If you have multiple health concerns, a nurse will preview your medical records and consult a doctor first. Some insurance plans do not cover preventive health screenings. Check with your insurance carrier to determine your coverage.

  • Advanced genetic screening and counseling

    Although most people who are diagnosed with colon cancer are older than age 40, some patients are younger. We may recommend genetic counseling for these younger patients and their family members.

    If you may be at risk for an inherited cancer, we’ll work with you and our genetics team to recommend next steps. And, we’ll help you and your family members navigate any additional screening or care you may need.

Newly diagnosed?

Contact the cancer team 24/7 by calling (888) 777-4167.

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