Colon Cancer

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UW Carbone Cancer Center


Related Information

Laporoscopic Surgery for Colon and Rectal Cancer


Patient Story

Six weeks after his son was born, Jason learned he had colorectal cancer.

Read Jason's Story: Hope After Colorectal Cancer


Colorectal Cancer Prevention and Screening

With screening, colorectal cancer can be prevented.

UW Health Colon and Rectal Surgery specialists in Madison, Wisconsin provide comprehensive evaluation and surgical treatment of colon cancer.


Colon Cancer is a term that encompasses cancers found in the cecum, ascending, transverse, descending and sigmoid colon.


Colon Cancer Symptoms


Presenting symptoms for colon cancer may vary depending on the patient.


Symptoms may include blood in the stool or change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea or constipation. More insidious symptoms such as shortness of breath and fatigue may indicate anemia from chronic blood loss associated with a tumor. Most commonly there are no symptoms and thus the reason for appropriate screening.


Diagnosing Colon Cancer


Screening for colon cancer is done with a colonoscopy. This begins at age 50 or earlier if one has a family history risk.


Bowel habit changes and/or symptoms worrisome for colon cancer require a full workup. A complete physical examination including rectal examination is required.


Further investigation involving bowel preparation and colonoscopy is necessary to visualize the inside of the colon. Masses or polyps can be biopsied or removed if they are small enough. These biopsies are studied under the microscope to differentiate benign lesions (polyps) from malignant tumors (cancers).


In order to assess for metastatic disease (tumor outside the colon), a CT scan of the abdomen and pelvis must be obtained. Further investigations with a chest X-ray and laboratory evaluations are often ordered as well.


Treating Colon Cancer


When found early, colon cancer can be treated with surgical resection alone.


Surgical resection involves removing the involved segment of colon along with the surrounding lymph nodes. This can be done by either an open approach or through minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery. Studies have shown that laparoscopy provides some benefit over traditional open surgery though cancer outcomes are similar. However, our surgeons devise a plan appropriate for each individual.


Treatment with chemotherapy is not necessary in each case. After a full staging workup including surgical removal of the tumor and lymph nodes, a decision regarding need for chemotherapy is made. Patients with lymph node involvement will likely be offered chemotherapy and well over half of patients will be cured of their disease. Our medical oncologists will be consulted and they will coordinate further care.


Multiple clinical trials are also available for those who are interested.