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Colon Cancer: Types, causes, symptoms, prevention and treatments

Team AckoJan 17, 2024

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon or rectum) was globally the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in 2020. As Colon Cancer is a prevalent and deadly disease, it is important to be aware of it. And this article can be helpful as it offers insights about Colon Cancer and highlights its types, causes, symptoms prevention methods and treatments.




What is Colon Cancer?

Colon Cancer is diagnosed when cancer originates from the colon. The colon is an organ that is a part of the digestive system. It helps to dehydrate food and form stools. Cancer of the colon typically starts to develop as benign tumours called polyps. These tumours generally do not show many Colon Cancer symptoms in their early stages. That is why this form of cancer can be prevented primarily by regular screening and surgically removing these polyps.

Types of Colon Cancer

The following are the most common types of Colon Cancer.

  1. Adenocarcinoma: This variant of Colon Cancer generally develops in the mucus-forming glands lining the colon and rectum. Also, it is an invasive type of cancer. Meaning it will spread to other parts of the body if the early symptoms of Colon Cancer are not detected and treated.

  2. Carcinoid tumours: It is a rare neuroendocrine tumour that generally develops in the gastrointestinal tract and colon.

  3. Gastrointestinal stromal tumours: This type of cancer develops in the soft tissues of the body, and in some instances, in the connective tissue or blood vessels of the colon.

  4. Lymphoma: This is a form of cancer that develops in the lymph nodes located in the gastrointestinal tract. In rare cases, it can also develop into cologenic cancer.

Signs and symptoms of Colon Cancer

The following are the signs and symptoms of Colon Cancer in men and women.

  • Bleeding rectum

  • Weakness and fatigue

  • Constipation

  • Diarrhoea

  • Anaemia

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

  • Changes in the colour and shape of stool

  • Blood in the stool

  • Weight loss

  • Abdominal cramps

  • Excessive gas

What are the causes of Colon Cancer?

The exact Colon Cancer causes are still unknown and are being researched. What is known is that an abnormality in the DNA causes the uncontrolled growth and development of cells in the colon and rectum region. These rogue cells can grow into cancerous tumours and spread to other parts of the body. Based on the extent of growth and spread, cancer development in the colon is categorised into various stages. 

The different stages of Colon Cancer

The following are the various Colon Cancer stages.

Stage 0: This is the initial stage of cancerous growth and is also called carcinoma in situ. In this stage, cancer starts to develop only in the colon’s inner layer.

Stage 1: In this stage, cancer has started invading the next layer of colon tissue but hasn’t yet spread to the lymph or other parts of the body.

Stage 2: This stage is diagnosed when cancer has spread to the outer layer of the colon and has started to develop in the lymph nodes slowly.

Stage 3: By this stage, cancer has spread beyond the colon and started developing in multiple lymph nodes.

Stage 4: This is the most critical stage. Here, cancer has spread beyond the walls of the colon and has started growing in the liver, stomach and other nearby regions.

How to diagnose Colon Cancer

Common Colon Cancer diagnosis tests include the following.

  • Faecal testing: These kinds of tests analyse your stools to check for hidden blood. This is because Colon Cancer can sometimes cause bleeding in the upper gastrointestinal tract. Some of these tests can be conducted at home.

  • Blood tests: If you have symptoms of Colon Cancer, your doctor may order blood tests to determine the cause. Usually, complete blood counts and liver function tests are used to confirm that other disorders or diseases are not causes of the Colon Cancer symptoms.

  • Sigmoidoscopy: This procedure enables your doctor to examine the last section of the colon called the sigmoid and is usually slightly invasive. It involves the insertion of a light-fitted flexible tube into the colon and so is also called a flexible sigmoidoscopy.

  • Colonoscopy: This procedure involves the insertion of a long tube attached to a camera. Using the visuals of the camera, doctors try to examine the colon and detect any abnormalities. It is usually suggested after the presence of cancerous growth is indicated by other tests.

  • X-ray: X-ray scans are sometimes used to detect the presence of cancerous growths in the colon. Before these scans, usually, the chemical barium is injected into the colon to improve the clarity of the x-ray scan.

  • CT scan: Similar to x-rays, CT scans give your doctor a visual of the colon that helps them detect abnormalities. Hence, this procedure is sometimes referred to as visual colonoscopy.

Treatments for Colon Cancer

Here are the top Colon Cancer treatment options.

  • Surgery: Surgeries like laparoscopic surgery, endoscopy and palliative surgery are typically used to remove the whole or part of the colon. Surrounding lymph nodes are also sometimes removed to reduce the risk of the cancer spreading.

  • Chemotherapy: An oncologist may treat Colon Cancer by administering Chemotherapy. This will damage the DNA of the cancerous cells and cause them to die. This treatment is usually carried out in cycles because it causes side effects like nausea, hair loss, vomiting and fatigue.

  • Radiation therapy: In this procedure, the cancerous cells in the colon are killed using gamma rays. These radiations are administered internally or externally or both based on your doctor’s recommendations.

Prevention of Colon Cancer

In this section, we will share how to prevent Colon Cancer. Although the causes for this condition are unknown, the following are the generally recommended Colon Cancer prevention tips.

  • Exercise regularly

  • Reduce dietary fat

  • Lose weight

  • Avoid processed meats

  • Eat more plant-based foods

  • Decrease red meat consumption

  • Keep preexisting diabetes under control

  • Reduce alcohol consumption or quit it

  • Decrease stress-inducing activities

  • Quit smoking

Frequently asked questions

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions and their answers regarding Colon Cancer.

What are the common stage 4 Colon Cancer symptoms?


The common stage 4 Colon Cancer symptoms include the following.

  • Deformed stools

  • Constipation

  • Diarrhoea

  • Vomiting

  • Bloating or abdominal pain

  • Blood present in the stools

  • Unintentional weight loss

  • Weakness and fatigue

Is Colon Cancer curable?


Yes, Colon Cancer can usually be treated and cured if it does not spread beyond the bowel.

What is the Colon Cancer survival rate?


The survival rate for Colon Cancer is generally high if diagnosed and treated in the early stages. However, the survival rate keeps dropping as cancer spreads outside of the colon to other parts of the body.

Who is more likely to develop Colon Cancer?


Anyone can develop Colon Cancer, but older adults are more likely to develop it.


Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. It is based on several secondary sources on the internet. As this content piece is not vetted by a medical professional, please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.


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