Colon Cancer

Colorectal cancer—cancer of the colon or rectum—is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. Early detection is key, as treatment is successful with 85 to 90 percent of colon cancer patients living at least five years.

If you or someone you know has colorectal cancer, you can trust that Gundersen provides individualized services in a friendly, welcoming and compassionate environment.

Screening recommendations

Beginning at age 50, both men and women should have a screening test. For those at average risk for colon cancer, a colonoscopy is recommended every 10 years. People with certain risk factors—such as family or personal history—may need a colonoscopy earlier or more frequently.

Colonoscopy is the preferred method of screening because it not only detects cancer but can identify pre-cancerous growths, known as polyps, and remove them before they turn into cancer. Colonoscopy is the only screening test that can remove pre-cancerous polyps and, therefore, decrease the risk of developing cancer.

Your primary care provider must refer you for a colonoscopy because family history and risk factors determine the timing of appropriate screening. Please talk to your primary care provider to help reduce your risk.

If you decline a colonoscopy, Fecal Immunoassay Test (FIT) is a reliable alternative that should be performed once a year. If there is blood found in your stool sample, a colonscopy will be the next step. At this point the colonoscopy is no longer a covered health screening, but a diagnostic tool that many not be covered by your insurance in the same way preventative screenings are.

What is colorectal cancer?

Cancer occurs when cells in the body begin changing and multiplying out of control. These cells can form tumors.

The colon, also known as the large intestine or large bowel, is a muscular tube that forms the last part of the digestive tract. It absorbs water and stores food waste. The colon is about four to six feet long.

The rectum is the last six inches of the colon. The colon and rectum have a smooth lining made up of millions of cells. Changes in these cells can lead to polyps that can become cancerous and should be removed.

Symptoms we treat

Patients with colon cancer may not notice symptoms right away. By the time symptoms appear, the cancer may have grown or spread to other organs.

As the cancer grows, you may see or feel some signs of colon or rectal cancer. These symptoms may be caused by colorectal cancer or by other less serious conditions. It is important to check with your healthcare provider to be sure.

Treatments we offer

Treatment of colon cancer depends on the type of cancer, the stage, the location and whether the cancer has spread. We perform an individual evaluation to determine which treatment is most appropriate for you.

Treatment may include:

  • Surgery - Surgery is often done to remove the cancerous parts of the colon and rectum. Some surrounding tissue is removed as well which may include nearby lymph nodes.
  • Chemotherapy - Chemotherapy may be done in addition to surgery. Chemotherapy uses medications to attack cancer cells. It is considered systemic therapy because it works throughout the body. It's usually done on an outpatient basis. You may receive the medication in pill form or through an IV or infusion pump—a device that slowly releases medication into your bloodstream.
  • Radiation therapy - Radiation therapy may be done for rectal cancer. This treatment uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. It's considered localized therapy because it targets the specific area of the body affected by the cancer. Radiation therapy is usually performed on an outpatient basis.
  • Clinical trials - Gundersen offers cutting-edge treatments to some colon cancer patients through clinical research studies.

If colon cancer is caught early enough, radiation and chemotherapy can often be avoided.

Love + Medicine

Every day, Gundersen Health System delivers great medicine plus a little something extra—we call it Love + Medicine.

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