Center for Digestive Diseases

UNM Hospitals Center
for Digestive Diseases

1001 Martin Luther King Ave. NE
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87106

(505)272-2530 or

UNMH: (505)272-6839
CDD: (505)925-7849

Colon Cancer

What is colon cancer?

Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death.  Approximately 150,000 new cases of colon cancer are diagnosed every year in the United States and nearly 50,000 people die from the disease. 

What are the symptoms of colon cancer?

Colon cancer is frequently asymptomatic for many months or even years.  Eventually patients may develop rectal bleeding, a change in bowel habits, abdominal distension or weight loss. Patients may also develop anemia.  Due to the long asymptomatic phase, colon cancer is amenable to screening and is considered a preventable disease that can be detected by testing even before there are symptoms.  Beginning at age 50, all men and women should be screened for colorectal cancer.  Patients with a family history of colon polyps or cancer should begin undergo screening colonoscopy starting at a younger age.  Colonoscopy is the best test for colorectal cancer screening.

What causes colon cancer?

Colon cancer becomes more frequent as you age.  Conditions associated with cancer include:  obesity, cigarette smoking, alcohol use, consumption of fatty foods, lack of exercise.  Some people have a genetic predisposition to develop colon cancer. 

How is colon cancer diagnosed?

Colon cancer is usually detected during colonoscopy.  Colonoscopy is an outpatient procedure that allows your doctor to examine the lining of your colon (large intestine) for abnormalities by inserting a thin flexible tube with a light and camera into your rectum.  Other tests that can detect colon cancer include flexible sigmoidoscopy, barium enema and CT colonography.

What is the treatment for colon cancer?

The treatment for colon cancer depends on the stage of the disease at the time of diagnosis.  Treatment may include surgical resection with or without chemotherapy. When colon cancer is discovered early, it may be treatable by resection alone.  In more advanced cases, chemotherapy may be recommended.  CT scan and chest x-ray may be recommended by your doctor in order to determine the extent of colon cancer.  If the cancer involves the rectum, endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) may also be recommended to determine the depth of the cancer.  EUS is an outpatient procedure that is performed with either sedation or general anesthesia.  A gastroenterologist with specialized training inserts a flexible illuminated camera attached with a sensitive miniature ultrasound into the anus and advances the camera to the desired location.  A combination of endoscopy and ultrasound is used  to determine the depth of involvement of the rectal cancer.

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