Colon Cancer

Diagram of human digestive system highlighting major organs.
Diagram of human digestive system highlighting major organs.

Colon cancer and rectal cancer sometimes are grouped together and called colorectal cancer. Colorectal cancers are the third most common type of cancer in the United States, not counting skin cancers.

Colorectal cancers grow slowly. They usually start as polyps, which are overgrowths of tissue in the lining of the colon. It’s important to know that colon cancer may start within a polyp, but not all polyps contain cancer.

Why Choose MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper?

MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper is South Jersey’s leading cancer center. At MD Anderson at Cooper, our team of gastrointestinal cancer experts provides men and women in South Jersey and the Delaware Valley with a team-based approach to treatment.   

At MD Anderson at Cooper, our multidisciplinary team of gastroenterologists, colon and rectal surgeons, oncologists, radiation oncologists, radiologists, pathologists and other cancer specialists collaborate to develop and implement a personalized treatment plan for each patient that is focused on the best possible outcomes and quality of life. Other specialists, such as those in medical genetics, gynecologic surgery, and urologic surgery, join the team to address related concerns as needed. 

Each patient benefits from our partnership with MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, one of the nation’s leading cancer centers. Through this partnership, our team of colon cancer experts has access to the same proven treatment plans and protocols given at MD Anderson in Houston, as well as access to select clinical trials and a full range of supportive care services. 

Through our cancer genetics program, our genetics counselors work closely with individuals who have inherited family syndromes that may increase their risk of colon cancer.  These serve as vital members of the treatment team and working closely with physicians to develop treatment plans targeted to these syndromes.

Colon Cancer Symptoms

Colon cancer often does not have symptoms in the early stages. Symptoms of colon cancer may include:

  • Rectal bleeding
  • Blood in the stool or toilet after a bowel movement
  • Diarrhea or constipation that does not go away
  • A change in size or shape of stool
  • Discomfort or urge to have a bowel movement when there is no need
  • Abdominal pain or a cramping pain in your lower stomach
  • Bloating or full feeling
  • Change in appetite
  • Weight loss without dieting
  • Fatigue

These symptoms usually do not mean you have colon cancer. But if you notice one or more of them for more than two weeks, see your doctor.

Colon Cancer Risk Factors

In most cases, it's not clear what causes colon cancer, but we do know that there are certain factors that increase a person’s risk for colon cancer; they include:

  • Age 45 or older
  • Family history of colon cancer, rectal cancer or polyps
  • Hereditary cancer syndromes such as hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC or Lynch) syndrome or familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease or chronic ulcerative colitis)
  • Polyps
  • Obesity
  • Lack of exercise
  • Diet: If you eat a lot of red meat, processed meats or meats cooked at very high heat, you may be at higher risk for colon cancer
  • Diabetes Type 2
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Drinking too much alcohol

Diagnosing Colon Cancer

Screening for Colon Cancer

Doctors recommend certain screening tests for healthy people with no signs or symptoms in order to look for early colon cancer. Finding colon cancer at its earliest stage provides the greatest chance for a cure. Screening has been shown to reduce the risk of dying of colon cancer.

People with an average risk of colon cancer should beginning screening at age 45. But people with an increased risk, such as those with a family history of colon cancer, should consider screening sooner.

There are several options for screening, colonoscopy is considered the “gold standard”, as it gives the doctor the opportunity to see and remove polyps before they have a chance to develop into cancer. Talk to your doctor about which screening option is best for you.

Colon Cancer Treatment Options

Treatment depends on several factors, but it is largely based on the stage of your cancer. The three primary treatment options for colon cancer are surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. The Gastrointestinal Cancer Center team at MD Anderson at Cooper will often combine techniques to provide comprehensive and effective care.


2022-2023Surgery is the most common treatment for colon cancer, especially if it has not spread. Surgery for colon cancer is most successful when done by a surgeon with a great deal of experience in the procedure, like those at MD Anderson at Cooper.

Colon cancer may be treated with surgery alone, surgery and chemotherapy, and/or other treatments. The type of surgical procedure used depends on the stage and location of the tumor.


MD Anderson at Cooper offers advanced and effective chemotherapy options for colon cancer. Drugs are given by mouth (pills) or intravenously (injected into a vein). Chemotherapy may be used to help:

  • Shrink the cancer before surgery
  • Keep you cancer-free after surgery
  • Prolong life when surgery is not an option

Targeted Therapies

MD Anderson at Cooper offers targeted therapies for certain types of colon cancer. These innovative new drugs stop the growth of cancer cells by interfering with certain proteins and receptors or blood vessels that supply the tumor with what it needs to grow, survive and spread.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays (such as X-rays) or particles to destroy cancer cells. The radiation is aimed directly at the tumor. It damages chromosomes in cancer cells so they can't reproduce and spread.

At MD Anderson at Cooper our radiation oncology experts focus on providing each patient with precise, high-quality care. Our quality assurance initiatives ensure that patients receive the safest and most effective treatment possible. Once a radiation treatment plan is developed, it is reviewed internally and evaluated by our partners at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston – providing another level of assurance for quality and safety. 

Advanced Colon Cancer

MD Anderson at Cooper has special expertise in treating stage 4 colon cancer that has metastasized (spread) to other parts of the body. We offer novel chemotherapy and targeted therapy options, and we have a medical oncologist on the team who is dedicated to caring for patient with advanced cancer.

Choose MD Anderson at Cooper as Your Partner in the Fight Against Colon Cancer

Men and women in South Jersey and the Delaware Valley faced with a diagnosis of colon cancer can count on the MD Anderson at Cooper Gastrointestinal Cancer Center team.  Our team has the experience, tools, and knowledge to help you conquer colon cancer.

For more information, or to schedule an appointment with a colon cancer expert at MD Anderson at Cooper, please call 855.MDA.COOPER (855.632.2667).