What is colon cancer?

  • Also referred to as colorectal cancer
  • Occurs in the colon (or large intestine) or in the rectum
  • Often develops slowly
  • Second-leading cause of cancer mortalities in men and women combined in the United States

Before cancer develops, an abnormal growth called a polyp may develop on the inner lining of the large intestine or rectum. While polyps are common and typically don’t cause symptoms, some are dangerous and can turn into cancer over time.

“Each year an estimated 150,000 people in the US will be diagnosed with colon cancer and an estimated 49,000 people will die from the disease. That is why awareness is important.”

― Candace, colon cancer survivor and colon cancer awareness advocate

What are the symptoms of colon cancer?

Colon cancer often has no obvious signs or symptoms in its early stages. By the time colon cancer symptoms show themselves, in many cases the cancer has advanced to a later stage.

If you experience any of the following colon cancer symptoms, see your doctor immediately:

  • A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea or constipation that lasts for more than a few days
  • A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that is not relieved by having one
  • Blood in your stool
  • Cramping or stomach pain
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Unexpected weight loss

“I think people just don’t realize how common it is and that it has no symptoms until late stage, so the only way to prevent it is with screening. Screening really is the key. Most cancers aren’t preventable; this one is1.”

― Anita, stage IV colon cancer survivor

Can you prevent colon cancer?

“Colon cancer is one of the most common cancers among men and women, but it doesn’t have to be. That’s the clincher. It’s highly preventable. By knowing about this disease and its symptoms, talking with your family about your family history, and talking with your physician about the right time for you to be screened, it’s possible to take charge of your health and prevent this disease. If my dad had had that education and discussion with his physician, his story would be very different.2

― Andrea, executive director of the Colon Cancer Prevent Project

Colon cancer is one of the most preventable, yet least prevented, cancers in the US today. It is the third most diagnosed cancer, and second leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women 50 years of age and older. Despite these facts, colon cancer is one of the most treatable cancers if it is found early through screening.

Yet, 1 in 3 adults 50 years of age or older is still not getting screened as recommended. Even if you don’t have any symptoms, regular screening is worthwhile, because it can:

  • Find polyps
  • Find colon cancer early, when it is highly treatable
  • Alert you to changes in your colon
Next Section: Risk Factors »