Managing Treatments

Colorectal Cancer vs. Colon Cancer: How Are They Different?

Colon and colorectal cancer are actually two distinct illnesses. Understanding these diseases helps you know which symptoms to watch for and which treatments may help you the most.

The term “colorectal cancer” is often used interchangeably with the term “colon cancer.” Both diseases result from intestinal cells growing out of control. However, though both cancers affect parts of the colon, or large intestine, they are actually distinct from each other. Understanding colorectal cancer vs. colon cancer helps you to better prepare for possible symptoms and treatment options your doctor may recommend.

The Basics of Colon Cancer

The large intestine is a crucial part of your digestive system. Also known as the colon, the large intestine is approximately five feet long, and cancer can begin anywhere along its length. According to Mayo Clinic, the causes of colon cancer are not known, but most begin as a growth, or polyp, on the inner lining of the colon.

Over time, noncancerous polyps may develop into cancer. Certain factors place you at greater risk for colon cancer, including:

  • Age: People over age 50 are at greater risk.
  • Family history: If a family member has or had colon cancer, you could be more likely to develop it yourself.
  • Diet: Research suggested diets high in fat and low in fiber, folate and calcium may increase your risk.
  • Genetic factors: Certain genetic mutations increase your risk of colon cancer.
  • Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis: These two conditions cause long-term inflammation of the colon, which may eventually lead to cancer.
  • Smoking: Smoking may increase your likelihood of developing colon polyps.

Colorectal Cancer vs. Colon Cancer

The rectum makes up the last six inches of your large intestine. When cancer begins in the rectum, it’s known as colorectal cancer. Like colon cancer, the exact causes of colorectal cancer are unknown. Many of the risk factors influencing the development of colon cancer may also increase your likelihood of developing colorectal cancer.

Watching Out for Symptoms

Many of the symptoms of colon cancer and colorectal cancer are similar. In general, you should see your doctor immediately if you notice:

  • Changes in your bowel habits
  • Blood in your stool
  • Ongoing abdominal discomfort
  • Feeling like your bowel doesn’t totally empty
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Unexplained weight loss

Additionally, according to Mayo Clinic, colorectal cancer may cause other symptoms such as:

  • Mucus in your stool
  • Narrow stool
  • Painful bowel movements
  • Iron deficiency anemia

Diagnosing Colon or Colorectal Cancer

If you develop any symptoms of colon or colorectal cancer, your doctor will perform several tests to make an accurate diagnosis. Your doctor may recommend blood tests to check your overall health. However, a procedure called a colonoscopy may be the best way to determine the cause of your symptoms.

During a colonoscopy, your doctor inserts a thin, flexible tube into your rectum and colon. This tube carries a small light to allow your doctor to visualize the interior of your intestine. If your doctor finds polyps or other suspicious areas of tissue, he or she may remove a small tissue sample for analysis in a laboratory. This analysis helps to confirm a colorectal or colon cancer diagnosis.

Treatment Options

If your doctor diagnoses colon cancer, you have several treatment options, as outlined by the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons (ASCRS). Surgery to remove the cancerous portion of the intestine is a mainstay of treatment, but you may also benefit from treatments like chemotherapy. Newer treatments, like immunotherapy or targeted drug therapy, may be used in addition to surgery and chemotherapy.

Colorectal cancer is treated much in the same manner; however, the ASCRS noted that your doctor may also recommend radiation therapy to help ensure all cancerous cells are destroyed. Your treatment plan will depend on your health, the type of cancer your doctor diagnoses, and the stage, or severity, of the cancer.

Colon and colorectal cancer are both serious diseases, but, if caught early, there is a great chance for a complete recovery. Be sure to watch out for symptoms which may indicate intestinal problems, and let your doctor know immediately if you notice anything unusual. Prompt diagnosis is key to the best outcome possible.

Prompt diagnosis is key — if you experience any of the symptoms of colon or colorectal cancer, let your doctor know right away.

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Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN