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Colon Cancer

Colon Cancer Overview

Cancer involves the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells that have mutated from normal tissues. This growth can kill when these cells prevent normal function of vital organs or spread throughout the body, damaging essential systems. Colon and rectum cancers, which are sometimes referred to together as "colorectal cancer," arise from the lining of the large intestine. When cancer arises from the lining of an organ like the large intestine, it is called a carcinoma.

Cancer of the colon or rectum is the third most common type of cancer for both men and women (after breast and lung for women, and prostate and lung for men). According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 102,480 new cases of colon cancer and 40,340 new cases of rectal cancer will be diagnosed in 2013.  The lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is five percent, and the risk is slightly lower in women than men.1

Because the vast majority of colorectal cancers are thought to arise from precancerous polyps known as adenomas, colorectal cancer is a potentially preventable disease with adequate screening and early detection. Age and risk appropriate screening combined with the application of endoscopic removal of pre-malignant lesions interrupts the adenoma to carcinoma sequence, and prevents the development of cancer. Screening is based on patient's age, the identification of risk factors, or the presence of clinical warning signs and symptoms

Due to increased colorectal cancer screening and improved treatment after diagnosis, over the past decade there has been a reduction in the number of new cases and fewer deaths due to colorectal cancer.

1What are the key statistics about colorectal cancer? American Cancer Socity, 1/17/2013.

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Last Reviewed: Feb 27, 2013

Gregory S Cooper, MD Gregory S Cooper, MD
Professor of Medicine
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University