Office of Women's Health

Facts About Colon Cancer

Should women be concerned about colon cancer?

While it does not get the attention of other cancers, colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths for Illinois women. It is also one of the easiest cancers to prevent and detect.

What are the symptoms of colon cancer?

Colon cancer often has no symptoms. However, rectal bleeding can be a warning sign and should never be ignored. Notify your physician so that a detailed medical history, X-ray and possibly endoscopic evaluation may be done to make a diagnosis.

Are some people at higher risk for colon cancer?

You may be at increased risk for colon cancer if you have a history of colitis due to Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis (which are both characterized by diarrhea). If you have a family history of colon cancer, you might also be at increased risk. It is a common misconception that colon cancer is a disease that primarily strikes men. An equal number of men and women die from colon cancer every year.

What are the treatment options for colon cancer?  

Surgery is the most common treatment, followed by chemotherapy, for patients in the later stages of colon cancer. Evidence suggests that the administration of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) is an option in the prevention of sporadic colon cancer by reducing the incidence and size of the cancer.

What are the screening tests for colon cancer?

 Fecal occult blood testing is a chemical test for blood in the feces. This is a simple and painless test done by obtaining a smear of feces and placing it on a strip. It can be done at your doctor's office or at home.

Flexible sigmoidoscopy is a procedure during which a hollow, lighted tube is inserted in the rectum to detect growths in the lower section of the colon where most tumors appear. It is recommended every five years after age 50, or for people at high risk.

Digital rectal examination is done by a doctor, but it only detects tumors near the anus.

Colonoscopy also uses a hollow, lighted tube called a colonoscope to inspect the entire colon. The colonoscope allows the physician to take a biopsy or to remove a polyp if found. It is recommended every 5-10 years or as a follow-up to a positive screening.

How can I reduce my risk for colon cancer?  

  • Be physically active; include at least 30 minutes of exercise or activity in each day’s schedule.
  • Eat a diet rich in whole grains, fiber, fruits and vegetables.
  • Avoid fatty foods and excess alcohol.
  • Know your family’s cancer history.
  • If you are over 50 or have a family history of colon cancer, get screened yearly.

You can find out more about colon cancer by contacting the following organization:

National Cancer Institutes Cancer Information Service