Colon cancer is a cancer of the digestive system that starts in the colon, part of the large intestine. Because it has many similarities to rectal cancer, the two cancers are often referred to as colorectal cancers. In most cases, colorectal cancers develop slowly over many years and are treatable if diagnosed early. Therefore, regular screening for colon cancer is critical.
In 2007 (the most recent year for which statistics are available), 142,672 Americans were diagnosed with colorectal cancer, including 72,755 men and 69,917 women. Excluding skin cancers, colon cancer is the third-most-common cancer in the United States. Over 90 percent of cases occur after the age of 50.
The death rate from colon and rectal cancers has been declining for two decades because of the prevalence of screening and early prevention. The American Cancer Society recommends that people at average risk for colon cancer have a screening test (colonoscopy or other type) beginning at age 50. The five-year survival rate for colon cancer now stands at about 90 percent when the cancer is found and treated early.
The primary treatment for colon cancer is surgery, either through an abdominal incision or, increasingly, through laparoscopic surgery. Laparoscopic surgery uses several smaller incisions that heal faster and limit damage to the patient’s immune system. Depending on the stage at which the cancer is detected, radiation and chemotherapy may also be options for colon cancer treatment.