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Colon cancer happens when cells that are not normal grow in your colon. These cells often form in polyps, which are small growths in the colon. Not all colon polyps turn into cancer. But most colon cancer starts in a polyp.
Colon cancer occurs most often in people older than 50.
Colon cancer usually grows very slowly. It usually takes years for the cancer to become large enough to cause symptoms. If the cancer is not removed and keeps growing, it eventually will invade and destroy nearby tissues and then spread farther, first to nearby lymph nodes. From there it may spread to other parts of the body.
Colon cancer in its early stages usually doesn't cause any symptoms. Symptoms occur later, when the cancer may be harder to treat. The most common symptoms include:
Screening tests can find or prevent many cases of colon cancer. They look for a certain disease or condition before any symptoms appear.
Screening tests that may find colon cancer early include:
Your risk for colorectal cancer gets higher as you get older. Experts say that most adults should start regular screening at age 50 and stop at age 74. Talk with your doctor about your risk and when to start and stop screening.
People with a higher risk, such as those with a strong family history of colon cancer, should be tested earlier than those with an average risk.
Here are other things you can do to help prevent colon cancer:
Treatment for colon cancer is based on the stage and location of the cancer. It's also based on other things, such as your overall health. Most people have surgery to remove the cancer. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or both may also be used. In some cases, targeted therapy may be an option.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
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Adaptation Date: 2/10/2022
Adapted By: Alberta Health Services
Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services
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