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Colon Cancer Overview

The colon and rectum form a long, muscular tube in your digestive system called the large intestine. The colon is the first six feet of the large intestine and the rectum is the last eight to ten inches.

Colon cancer, also called colorectal cancer, begins in the cells that line the colon or large intestine. Adeno-carcinoma accounts for over 90-95 percent of cancers originating in the colon, but other forms can occur, including, leiomyosarcoma, lymphoma, melanoma, and neuroendocrine tumors. If detected early, cancer cells may only be found in the colon. If not detected early, the cancer may invade adjacent organs and spread through the lymphatic system and blood vessels throughout the body to the liver, lungs and other organs.

Most cases of colon cancer begin as small, noncancerous, or benign, clumps of cells called adenomatous polyps. Over time some of these polyps can become colon cancers. For this reason, WellStar cancer specialists recommend following American Cancer Society recommendations for colon cancer screening.


Symptoms of colon cancer include:

  • Bowel changes, such as diarrhea, constipation or changes with the consistency of the stool that last for more than a couple of weeks
  • Chronic abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool
  • A feeling that your bowel doesn't empty completely
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss

Risk Factors

  • If a family member has had a certain type of cancer, you could be at higher risk for that cancer.
  • Environmental factors like diet, exercise or exposure to substances present in your surroundings, could also place you at risk.
  • Some activities, like smoking and drinking alcohol, can increase the chance of normal cells turning cancerous, putting you at even greater risk.