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Colorectal cancer, cancer that begins in the colon or rectum, is a type of intestinal cancer and is the third most common type of cancer in the U.S. for both men and women. At Mercy, you’ll find a team of experts who specialize in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of colorectal cancer.
Colorectal cancer, commonly called colon cancer, occurs when abnormal cells grow in the tissues of your colon or rectum. The disease usually begins as polyps—small growths of cells that could become cancerous. Polyps develop slowly and may not cause any symptoms. Most polyps can be removed during a colonoscopy, which helps reduce your risk of developing colon cancer.
Colorectal cancer has several types depending on where it’s located. The most common type - adenocarcinoma - develops in the lining of the large intestine. Other types of colon cancer can develop in different parts of the digestive tract and can affect your hormone production, immune system, nervous system, muscles and other tissues. These types are very rare.
More than 95% of colorectal cancers are adenocarcinomas, which start in mucous-secreting cells in the lining of the colon and rectum. They often begin as polyps (also called adenomas), which can be removed during colonoscopies before they become cancer. Adenocarcinomas typically start in the inner lining of the large intestine but can spread to other layers.
While colorectal cancer isn’t generally hereditary, there are a small number of cases caused by gene mutations (changes) passed down in families. The two most common hereditary colorectal cancers are hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer and familial adenomatous polyposis.
If you have a strong family history of colon cancer, especially in your first-degree relatives please contact your Mercy primary care doctor to discuss genetic testing for colon cancer no matter your age.
While the exact cause of colon cancer is unknown, several factors can increase your risk of developing it. You can reduce some of these risk factors with diet and lifestyle changes.
Colon cancer doesn’t always cause symptoms, especially in the early stages. If you experience symptoms, they may include:
Colon cancer screening tests can often detect colon cancer at its earliest stages when treatment is most likely to be successful. The most common colon and rectal cancer screenings are colonoscopies, sigmoidoscopies and high-sensitivity fecal occult blood tests (FOBTs). If your screening test shows a potential concern or you’re experiencing symptoms, your Mercy gastroenterologist may recommend diagnostic testing, which can include certain types of imaging tests, biopsies and laboratory tests.
Imaging tests are used in determining the staging and spreading of colon cancer. The types of imaging used to diagnose colon cancer may include:
Biopsies are performed if colon or rectal cancer is suspected by screening or diagnostic tests. A biopsy is usually completed during a colonoscopy and often performed using the minimally invasive laparoscopic method.
Certain laboratory tests may be ordered to help determine if you have colon cancer. These blood tests can also be used to help monitor your cancer once diagnosed. The types of blood tests may include:
When you rely on the team of cancer specialists at Mercy, you’ll find complete, compassionate colorectal cancer care from detection and diagnosis to treatment and recovery. We develop personalized cancer treatment based on your individual needs, the stage of your colorectal cancer and whether it has spread or not. Treatments include colon cancer surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and targeted therapy.
Colon cancer surgery is a common treatment for all stages of colorectal cancer. During surgery for colon cancer, lymph nodes are usually removed to determine whether they’re cancerous. Depending on the location and type of colorectal cancer, one or more surgeries may be performed. Mercy surgeons specialize in removing polyps and tumors and are skilled in the latest technologies and minimally invasive colorectal surgery techniques, including laparoscopic surgery and robotic-assisted surgery for colon cancer.
Some early-stage colon cancers can be removed during a colonoscopy. Both polypectomy and local excision can be performed during this procedure.
Bowel resection, also called a colectomy, removes the diseased portion of the colon or rectum. The nearby lymph nodes are also removed during a bowel. resection in order to be tested for cancer. If possible, the two healthy parts of the colon or rectum are sewn together (also called anastomosis).
In many cases, patients will not need a colostomy after colorectal cancer surgery. However, there are instances in which the bowel cannot be immediately reattached and a temporary colostomy may be needed. A colostomy creates an opening on the outside of the body that collects waste in a pouch.
Mercy radiation oncologists offer advanced radiation therapy treatments to precisely target cancerous tumors and may be used before or after colorectal cancer surgery. It’s also used as palliative therapy for people who can’t have surgery and need relief from discomfort caused by tumors. Types of radiation therapy for colorectal cancer include external radiotherapy and brachytherapy or internal radiation therapy.
External beam radiation therapy (EBRT) is a local cancer treatment and is most often used for patients with colon or rectal cancer. The different types of external radiotherapy used for colorectal cancers may include:
Internal radiation therapy, also known as brachytherapy, might be used to treat some types of rectal cancers. During brachytherapy, radioactive material is placed inside or near cancer tumors to target smaller treatment areas.
For some colorectal cancers, chemotherapy may be needed before or after surgery. Chemo drugs target cancer cells that grow and divide quickly. Chemo can be administered by infusion into your veins or orally to fight cancer throughout your body.
Immunotherapy is used in certain colorectal cancers to help improve treatment options. Many people who have taken immunotherapy medications have reported experiencing fewer side effects than traditional chemotherapies.
Targeted therapies are drugs that target gene and protein changes in cells involved with colorectal cancer. An example is monoclonal antibodies—substances made in a lab that can help your immune system find and attack cancer cells.
Learn about colon cancer risks, screening guidelines and treatment options from Dr. Wigington, a Mercy Clinic gastroenterologist.
At Mercy, we offer comprehensive testing services to diagnose all types of colon and rectal cancer, including:
At Mercy, we offer compassionate care for a variety of colorectal cancer treatment services, including:
Early detection saves lives. Mercy can test for 50 types of cancer before symptoms appear. See if you’re eligible.
Discover how you can participate in an oncology clinical trial. Learn more.