Colon Cancer: Symptoms & Stages of Colon Cancer

Colon Cancer

What Is Colon Cancer?

Colon cancer, also referred to as colorectal cancer, is a type of cancer that affects the colon or rectum, which are both parts of the large intestine. This is the most common type of cancer in the United States. Colon cancer is a malignancy that begins in the large intestine, or colon. This cancer develops when abnormal cells in the lining of the colon or rectum grow uncontrollably, forming tumors that can invade nearby tissues and potentially spread to other parts of the body if not treated.

Statistics of Colon Cancer Globally

One of the most common malignancies in the world is colon cancer. With just 1.8 million new cases reported in 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that it is the second most frequent cancer in women and the third most common cancer in men. Furthermore, according to projections from the American Cancer Society, there will be around 150,000 additional cases in the US in 2023.

In order to increase awareness about colon cancer, these figures highlight the necessity of taking prompt, preventative action as well as routine screening. People may take proactive measures toward prevention and early detection even when the figures are alarming if they are aware of the risk factors, symptoms, and therapies that are available.

Causes and Risk Factors Colon Cancer

Age: The risk of colon cancer increases with age, particularly in individuals over 50. In recent years, medical professionals have been diagnosing colon cancer cases among younger adults more frequently

Family History and Genetics: Individuals with a family history of colon cancer or certain genetic conditions, like familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or Lynch syndrome, have a higher risk.

Dietary Factors: A diet high in red and processed meats, low in fiber, fruits, and vegetables may contribute to an increased risk of colon cancer.

Lifestyle Choices: Lack of physical activity, obesity, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption are linked to a higher likelihood of developing colon cancer.

Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD): Conditions like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis can increase the risk of colon cancer over time.

Personal Medical History: Individuals with a history of polyps in the colon or rectum are at higher risk. Also, having undergone radiation therapy for previous cancers in the abdomen or pelvis might increase the likelihood of developing colon cancer.

Race and Ethnicity: Some racial and ethnic groups have a higher risk of colon cancer. African Americans, for instance, have an increased risk compared to other groups.

Diabetes: There’s a correlation between diabetes and an increased risk of colon cancer.

Environmental Factors: Exposure to certain environmental factors or occupational hazards might contribute to an increased risk, though this is an area that requires more research.

Other Common Causes are:

  • Tobacco use
  • a diet high in red meat and processed meat
  • lack of exercise
  • obesity, and
  • hereditary factors.
Note: Regular screenings, a healthy lifestyle, and awareness of these risk factors can play a crucial role in early detection and prevention of colon cancer.

Symptoms and Signs

Colon cancer can present various symptoms and signs, although some individuals might not experience any symptoms in the early stages. However, it’s crucial to be vigilant about any changes in your body and seek medical attention if you notice the following:

Change in Bowel Habits

Persistent diarrhea, constipation, or a change in stool consistency (such as narrower stools) that lasts for more than a few days.

Rectal Bleeding

Blood in your stool or rectal bleeding (bright red or very dark).

Abdominal Discomfort

Persistent abdominal pain, cramps, bloating, or discomfort, particularly if it’s accompanied by other symptoms.

Weakness and Fatigue

Feeling weak or tired even after adequate rest or changes in energy levels.

Unexplained Weight Loss

Significant and unexplained weight loss without any change in diet or physical activity.

Incomplete Evacuation

Feeling the need to have a bowel movement that’s not relieved by doing so.


Iron-deficiency anemia due to chronic blood loss, which might cause fatigue, weakness, and pale skin.

Persistent Nausea or Vomiting

Feeling nauseous or vomiting that doesn’t seem to have any other explanation.

Remember, these symptoms can be caused by conditions other than colon cancer. However, if you notice any of these signs persisting for an extended period or if they worsen over time, it’s crucial to consult a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and diagnosis. Regular screenings are also recommended, especially for individuals over the age of 50 or those with a family history of colon cancer or related conditions. Early detection significantly improves the chances of successful treatment.

Screening and Early Detection


Considered the gold standard for colon cancer screening, colonoscopy cancer involves examining the lining of the colon using a flexible tube with a camera. This allows early detection and removal of polyps, thereby preventing the development of cancer.

Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT)

This non-invasive test detects traces of blood in the stool, which may not be visible to the naked eye. Blood in the stool can be an indicator of various gastrointestinal conditions, including colon cancer.

Other Diagnostic Tests

Additional diagnostic tools such as sigmoidoscopy, CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy cancer) and stool DNA testing complement the screening methods. They help in early detection and play an important role in detecting abnormalities or potential malignancies.

Diagnostic Procedures for Colon Cancer

Several tests and procedures aid in confirming a diagnosis:

Colonoscopy: A primary screening method where a flexible tube with a camera examines the colon’s inner lining for abnormalities.

Biopsy: If suspicious areas are found during a colonoscopy, tissue samples are taken for analysis.

Imaging Tests: CT scans, MRIs, and PET scans may be employed to determine the cancer’s extent and spread.

Stages Of Colon Cancer

This typically develops over many years, with different people experiencing the disease at different stages. However, there are five stages of colon cancer that can be identified through various biomarkers and clinical features.

Early-stage this is usually diagnosed when the tumor is small and has not spread to other parts of the body. In later stages, tumors may have grown larger and spread to other parts of the body. Treatment depends on the stage of cancer and may include surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy.

Stage 0

The first stage of colon cancer occurs within stage 0, in which cancer has not spread beyond the mucosa or inner layer of the colon.

Stage 1

In this stage, cancer has spread from the mucosa, which is the innermost layer of the colon, to the next layer (the submucosa). It might have developed into the muscularis propria, a layer of muscle. The lymph nodes have not been affected by it.

Stage 2

In this stage colon cancer is slightly more advanced than stage 1, and has spread beyond the mucosa and the submucosa.

  • 2A. The lymph nodes or adjacent tissue have not been affected by cancer’s spread. The colon’s outermost layers have been reached, but not entirely.
  • 2B Cancer has grown through the outer layer of the colon and into the visceral peritoneum, but it has not yet spread to the lymph nodes. This membrane is responsible for keeping the abdominal organs in place.
  • 2C The lymph nodes have not been affected by the malignancy. However, it has spread to surrounding organs or structures as well as the colon’s outer layer.

Stage 3

Stage 3 colon cancer is classified as stage 3A, 3B, or 3C.

  • 3A  The tumor is larger than the size of the muscular layers and is found in nearby lymph nodes. It is metastasized to distant nodes or organs.
  • 3B. In either of the following circumstances, colon cancer will be categorized as stage 3B
  • The visceral peritoneum has been penetrated by the tumor, which has also grown through the colon’s outermost layers and into other organs or structures. Additionally, one to three lymph nodes contain it.
  • Although the tumor has not penetrated the colon’s outermost layers, four or more neighboring lymph nodes have been identified to contain it.
  • 3C. The tumor has surpassed the muscle layers in size. Four or more lymph nodes close is also found to have cancer, but not distant sites.

Stage 4

In Stage 4 colon cancer is classified into four categories: stage 4A, 4B, and 4C.

  • Stage 4A indicates that it has spread to one spot away from the colon, such as the liver, lungs, or lymph glands.
  • Stage 4B indicates that colon carcinoma has spread to multiple spots away from the gut but within the perimeter of the intestines known as the peritoneum.
  • Stage 4C indicates that cancer has spread to the peritoneum.

The staging process assists healthcare providers in developing an appropriate treatment plan. Early stages might require surgery alone, while advanced stages might involve surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or targeted therapies.

Surgery: Types and Procedures

Surgery stands as one of the primary treatment methods for colon cancer. The aim is to remove the tumor and any affected surrounding tissues. Various surgical procedures may be employed based on the location, size, and stage of the cancer.

Polypectomy and Local Excision

For small, early-stage cancers, minimally invasive techniques like polypectomy (removal of polyps) or local excision may suffice.


This procedure involves removing a portion or the entirety of the colon containing the tumor. The remaining healthy sections are then reconnected.

Lymph Node Removal

Lymph nodes in the vicinity of the tumor may also be removed to check for the spread of cancer cells.


In some cases, particularly if it’s not feasible to reconnect the colon, a colostomy might be necessary. This involves creating an opening (stoma) in the abdominal wall for waste elimination.

Chemotherapy and Radiation Therapy

Doctors often use chemotherapy and radiation therapy to destroy cancer cells or prevent their growth. They frequently combine these methods with surgery or other treatments.

Chemotherapy: It involves the use of drugs that target rapidly dividing cells, including cancer cells. These drugs can be administered orally or through an intravenous infusion.

Radiation Therapy: This treatment uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells or shrink tumors. It can be employed before surgery to shrink the tumor or after surgery to destroy remaining cancer cells.

Life with Colon Cancer: Strategies, Support, and Lifestyle Changes

A diagnosis of colon cancer can be a life-altering moment, setting off a cascade of emotions, questions, and uncertainties. Yet, amidst the challenges, there is room for hope, resilience, and empowerment. Living with colon cancer is a multifaceted journey that encompasses physical, emotional, and practical aspects, demanding a holistic approach to navigating its complexities.

Understanding Life After Diagnosis

Upon diagnosis, a whirlwind of emotions can surface—fear, anger, confusion, and sadness. It’s vital to acknowledge these feelings and seek support. Talking to friends, family, or joining support groups can provide immense comfort. Additionally, professional counseling or therapy can aid in processing these emotions, fostering mental resilience.

Understanding Treatment Options and Its Impact

Treatment plans for colon cancer vary based on its stage, location, and individual health factors. Common treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted drug therapy, and immunotherapy. Each treatment pathway carries its own set of challenges and potential side effects. Engaging in open communication with healthcare providers, asking questions, and seeking second opinions can assist in making informed decisions about treatment.

Managing Physical Challenges

The physical toll of colon cancer and its treatments can present numerous hurdles. Fatigue, nausea, changes in appetite, and weight fluctuations are common. Maintaining a balanced diet, staying hydrated, and incorporating gentle exercise can aid in managing these symptoms. Additionally, seeking guidance from nutritionists and physical therapists can be beneficial in developing a tailored plan to cope with the physical challenges.

Coping with Long-term Effects

For many, life after colon cancer treatment involves grappling with long-term effects. These might include lingering fatigue, neuropathy, digestive issues, or emotional distress. Establishing a routine that supports physical health, seeking rehabilitation services, and practicing mindfulness or relaxation techniques can contribute to overall well-being.

Importance of Support Groups and Counseling

Support groups and counseling play a pivotal role in the journey of a colon cancer patient and their families:

Emotional Support: Support groups create a safe space where individuals can freely express their emotions, fears, and concerns without judgment. This mutual sharing fosters a sense of community and solidarity.

Information Exchange: Participants in support groups often share practical tips, personal experiences, and coping mechanisms, providing invaluable insights that might not be available elsewhere.

Caregiver Support: Caregivers also face significant emotional and practical challenges. Support groups tailored for caregivers offer them a chance to share their experiences, seek advice, and find solace in knowing they are not alone.

Professional Counseling: Trained counselors or therapists specializing in cancer care can provide personalized support, helping individuals and families navigate through the emotional complexities associated with the disease.

Lifestyle Changes After Diagnosis and During Treatment

Adopting certain lifestyle modifications is crucial for managing colon cancer and improving overall well-being:

Dietary Adjustments: A balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can support the body during treatment and aid in recovery. Consultation with a registered dietitian can help personalize nutritional plans.

Regular Exercise: Physical activity, as approved by healthcare professionals, can improve energy levels, reduce stress, and contribute to overall health. Even mild exercises like walking can have significant benefits.

Stress Management: Techniques such as meditation, yoga, deep breathing exercises, or mindfulness can help alleviate stress and promote emotional well-being.

Living with colon cancer encompasses a myriad of challenges that extend beyond medical treatments. Coping strategies, support networks, and lifestyle adjustments form the pillars of holistic management. By embracing these aspects, individuals diagnosed with colon cancer and their families can navigate this journey with resilience, strength, and a better quality of life.


However, the good news is that colon cancer is often preventable and highly treatable when detected early.

Colon cancer begins as small growths of cells called polyps in the lining of the colon or rectum. Over time, some of these polyps can become cancerous. While the exact cause of colon cancer remains unknown, certain risk factors can contribute to its development, including:

Age: The risk of colon cancer increases with age, especially after 50. However, cases among younger individuals have been rising, emphasizing the importance of awareness across all age groups.

Family History and Genetics: Individuals with a family history of colon cancer or certain genetic syndromes, like familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or Lynch syndrome, have a higher risk.

Lifestyle Factors: Poor dietary habits, lack of physical activity, obesity, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption can elevate the risk of colon cancer.

Medical Conditions: Conditions like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis may increase the risk.

Prevention Strategies:

Preventing colon cancer involves a multifaceted approach that focuses on lifestyle modifications, regular screenings, and awareness of potential risk factors. Here are some effective preventive measures:

Healthy Diet: Adopting a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low in red and processed meats can lower the risk of colon cancer. Adequate fiber intake is beneficial.

Regular Exercise: Engaging in regular physical activity, such as brisk walking, jogging, or cycling, reduces the risk of colon cancer.

Maintaining a Healthy Weight: Being overweight or obese increases the risk of colon cancer. Managing weight through a balanced diet and exercise is crucial.

Limiting Alcohol and Avoiding Tobacco: Limiting alcohol intake and avoiding tobacco products can significantly reduce the risk of developing colon cancer.

Screening and Early Detection: Regular screenings, such as colonoscopies and stool tests, are vital for early detection and prevention. Screening guidelines vary based on age and risk factors, but generally, individuals should start screening around the age of 45 or earlier if high-risk factors are present.

Awareness and Education: Increasing awareness about colon , its risk factors, and the importance of screenings is crucial in preventing its incidence. Education programs and community outreach can play a pivotal role.


In conclusion, colon cancer is a serious condition that can present various symptoms and signs, although some individuals may not experience any symptoms in the early stages. Timely detection and prompt medical intervention are crucial in effectively managing and treating this disease. Awareness of the potential signs, regular screenings, and proactive discussions with healthcare professionals about risk factors and preventive measures are essential in reducing the impact of colon cancer.

With advancements in medical technology and increased awareness, early detection offers a significantly better prognosis and enhances the likelihood of successful treatment outcomes. Understanding the importance of early intervention and adopting healthy lifestyle choices contribute to reducing the risk and improving the overall health outcomes for individuals affected by colon cancer.


What Is A Colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is a procedure that uses a scope to look inside the rectum and anus. It is used to check for cancer or other abnormalities.

What Is Colonoscopy Screening?

Colonoscopy screening is a procedure done to check for this. It is a good way to find out if you have the disease early and can get treatment.

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