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Colon Cancer (Colon Carcinoma)

Cancer that forms in the tissues of the colon (the longest part of the large intestine).

PubMed Health Glossary
(Source: NIH - National Cancer Institute)

About Colon Cancer

Colon cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the colon.

The colon is part of the body's digestive system. The digestive system removes and processes nutrients (vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and water) from foods and helps pass waste material out of the body. The digestive system is made up of the esophagus, stomach, and the small and large intestines. The first 6 feet of the large intestine are called the large bowel or colon. The last 6 inches are the rectum and the anal canal. The anal canal ends at the anus (the opening of the large intestine to the outside of the body).

Gastrointestinal stromal tumors can occur in the colon. See the PDQ summary on Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors Treatment for more information... Read more about Colon Cancer

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

Adjuvant therapy for completely resected stage II colon cancer

Colon cancer is the second most common cause of cancer deaths in the Western world. A large proportion of colon cancer patients can be cured by surgical resection alone. For those patients with lymph node positive (stage III) disease, the recurrence rate can exceed 50% and adjuvant chemotherapy has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of recurrence. In patients without lymph node involvement (stage I and II), the prognosis is quite good with surgery alone, with survival rates of 75% to 95% at 5 years. However, some patients with high risk stage II disease have a relapse rate approaching that of stage III colon cancer patients. Due to the effectiveness of systemic chemotherapy in stage III disease, a similar approach has been considered for patients with stage II disease. We performed a systematic review looking at all randomized clinical trials evaluating stage II colon cancer patients and adjuvant therapy versus surgery alone. Our review found that adjuvant therapy ‐either systemic or regional chemotherapy or immunotherapy‐ can improve the outcomes of stage II patients. In counselling individual patients, the advice given should be conditioned by the patient's age and comorbidities. In addition, the high risk features of the tumour should also be considered when contemplating the benefits of systemic therapy in patients with stage II colon cancer. Further investigation is needed to elucidate which patient and tumour factors can be used to select stage II colon cancer patients for adjuvant therapy. There also exists a need to continue to search for other adjuvant therapies which might be more effective, shorter in duration and less toxic than those available today.

Strategies for detecting colon cancer in patients with inflammatory bowel disease

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is composed of two main disorders Crohn’s disease (CD) and ulcerative colitis (UC). These diseases are chronic inflammatory disorder of the gastrointestinal tract. Common symptoms may include abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhoea, and blood in stools. People with CD may also experience intestinal strictures (a narrowing of a section of the intestine that causes problems by slowing or blocking the movement of food), abscesses (a collection of pus that has built up within the tissue) and fistulae (an abnormal channel or passageway connecting one internal organ to another, or to the outside surface of the body).

This systematic review focuses on long‐term outcome of laparoscopic versus open surgery for colorectal cancer, including long‐term complications and cancer outcome.

Laparoscopic resection of carcinoma of the colon is associated with a long term outcome no different from that of open colectomy. In the case of rectal cancer, data on long term outcome are scarce and the results of large randomised trails have to be awaited.

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Summaries for consumers

Adjuvant therapy for completely resected stage II colon cancer

Colon cancer is the second most common cause of cancer deaths in the Western world. A large proportion of colon cancer patients can be cured by surgical resection alone. For those patients with lymph node positive (stage III) disease, the recurrence rate can exceed 50% and adjuvant chemotherapy has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of recurrence. In patients without lymph node involvement (stage I and II), the prognosis is quite good with surgery alone, with survival rates of 75% to 95% at 5 years. However, some patients with high risk stage II disease have a relapse rate approaching that of stage III colon cancer patients. Due to the effectiveness of systemic chemotherapy in stage III disease, a similar approach has been considered for patients with stage II disease. We performed a systematic review looking at all randomized clinical trials evaluating stage II colon cancer patients and adjuvant therapy versus surgery alone. Our review found that adjuvant therapy ‐either systemic or regional chemotherapy or immunotherapy‐ can improve the outcomes of stage II patients. In counselling individual patients, the advice given should be conditioned by the patient's age and comorbidities. In addition, the high risk features of the tumour should also be considered when contemplating the benefits of systemic therapy in patients with stage II colon cancer. Further investigation is needed to elucidate which patient and tumour factors can be used to select stage II colon cancer patients for adjuvant therapy. There also exists a need to continue to search for other adjuvant therapies which might be more effective, shorter in duration and less toxic than those available today.

Strategies for detecting colon cancer in patients with inflammatory bowel disease

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is composed of two main disorders Crohn’s disease (CD) and ulcerative colitis (UC). These diseases are chronic inflammatory disorder of the gastrointestinal tract. Common symptoms may include abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhoea, and blood in stools. People with CD may also experience intestinal strictures (a narrowing of a section of the intestine that causes problems by slowing or blocking the movement of food), abscesses (a collection of pus that has built up within the tissue) and fistulae (an abnormal channel or passageway connecting one internal organ to another, or to the outside surface of the body).

This systematic review focuses on long‐term outcome of laparoscopic versus open surgery for colorectal cancer, including long‐term complications and cancer outcome.

Laparoscopic resection of carcinoma of the colon is associated with a long term outcome no different from that of open colectomy. In the case of rectal cancer, data on long term outcome are scarce and the results of large randomised trails have to be awaited.

See all (116)

Terms to know

Colon (Bowel)
The longest part of the large intestine, which is a tube-like organ connected to the small intestine at one end and the anus at the other. The colon removes water and some nutrients and electrolytes from partially digested food. The remaining material, solid waste called stool, moves through the colon to the rectum and leaves the body through the anus.
Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor (GIST)
A type of tumor that usually begins in cells in the wall of the gastrointestinal tract.
Large Intestine
The part of the intestine that includes the appendix, cecum, colon, and rectum. The large intestine absorbs water from stool and changes it from a liquid to a solid form. The large intestine is 5 feet long.
Rectum
The last several inches of the large intestine closest to the anus.

More about Colon Cancer

Photo of an adult

Also called: Malignant tumour of the colon, Malignant tumor of the colon, Cancer of the colon, Carcinoma of the colon, Colonic carcinoma

Other terms to know: See all 4
Colon (Bowel), Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor (GIST), Large Intestine

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