Our Colon Cancer Program

Expert colon cancer care focused on your needs.

Colorectal cancer specialist discussing colon cancer diagnosis with patient

What you need to know about colon cancer

Cancers that start in the colon and rectum are called colorectal cancers. These two cancers are often grouped together because they are similar, but colon cancer is far more common than rectal cancer. Often the terms colon cancer and colorectal cancer are used interchangeably.

Most colorectal cancers start as polyps. These are growths caused by changes in the cells that line the inside of the colon or rectum. Over time, some types of polyps can become cancer. Finding and removing polyps while they're small may stop cancer from ever forming.

  • Polyps are fleshy clumps of tissue that form on the inner lining of the colon or rectum. Small polyps are seldom cancer. But over time, the cells in a type of polyp called an adenomatous polyp, or adenoma, can change and become cancer. The longer a polyp is there and the bigger it gets, the more likely this is to happen.
  • Colorectal cancers most often start when cells in a polyp start growing abnormally. As a cancer tumor grows, it can invade into the deeper layers of the colon or rectal wall. Over time, the cancer can grow beyond the colon or rectum and into nearby organs. Or it can spread to nearby lymph nodes. The cancer cells can also travel to other parts of the body, where they can form new tumors. This is known as metastasis.

Excluding skin cancer, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in men and women in the United States. The lifetime risk for men for developing it is one in 22; for women one in 24.

The good news is that deaths from these cancers have been dropping in recent decades. There are now more than one million colorectal cancer survivors living in the United States. Advancements in early detection and treatment have improved survival rates.

Symptoms of colon cancer

People with colorectal cancer seldom have symptoms right away. By the time symptoms start, the cancer may have grown or spread to other organs. This can make it harder to treat. That’s why routine colorectal cancer screening is important. Symptoms can include:

  • A change in bowel habits that lasts for more than a few days, such as diarrhea, constipation, or a feeling that your bowel is not empty after a bowel movement
  • Bright red or very dark blood in your stool
  • Constant tiredness
  • Stools that are thinner than usual
  • Stools that look slimy or have mucous on them
  • Ongoing gas pains, bloating, fullness, or cramps
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Vomiting

If your healthcare provider thinks you may have colorectal cancer, exams and tests will be needed to know for sure. Your healthcare provider will ask you about your health history, your symptoms, risk factors, and family history of disease. A physical exam will be done.

A biopsy is the only way to be sure of a colorectal cancer diagnosis. The most common type of biopsy is an endoscopic biopsy. This is usually done during a colonoscopy. A small piece of the changed tissue is taken out and checked for cancer cells. 

Colorectal cancer specialists

Legacy Cancer Institute, located in Portland, OR, ranks among the nation’s best cancer programs. We have a team of cancer specialists who work together to diagnose and develop a personalized treatment plan for you. Find the right provider and treatment close to home.

Our team of colon cancer specialists provide advanced treatment in colorectal cancer care.

Understanding your colon cancer diagnosis

Being told you have colon cancer can be scary and you may have a lot of questions. Your Legacy Health cancer team is here to help. To plan treatment for colon cancer, doctors need to know how much the disease has spread and whether the tumor can be surgically removed. Tests can also help your doctor understand your cancer stage. 

Cancer staging includes identifying where the cancer is located, if or where it has spread, and if it is affecting other parts of your body. Knowing the stage allows your doctor to develop your personalized treatment plan. 

Your doctor may use one or more of the following tests:

  • Carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) assay: Test measuring the level of CEA in the blood. Sometimes high levels are a sign of cancer. However, CEA is not always increased with colon or rectal cancers.
  • Chest X-ray, CT scan, MRI or positron emission tomography (PET): Imaging technology to look inside the body.
  • Other tests: Additional blood tests or surgery may also help your doctor guide your treatment.

Colon cancer treatment options

Your treatment will vary depending your diagnosis, which takes into account the location and stage of the cancer and your age and general health. The treatment may include surgery, chemotherapy or radiation or a combination of these. Legacy Cancer Institute provides compassion, expertise and a treatment plan for you. 

Learn more about colon cancer treatment options

Our cancer experts are supported by an entire team that includes oncologists, nurse navigators, physician assistants and others, all working together for you. 

Talk to your doctor to see if clinical trials may be right for you.

Why Legacy is the best for colon cancer care

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Colon cancer program results

Legacy Cancer Institute is accredited as an integrated network cancer program by the American College of surgeons Commission on Cancer (CoC). Learn more about our quality cancer care

More support

You are not alone. Legacy offers support throughout your cancer journey, as well as care for your emotional, social and spiritual needs.

Nurse navigators
Legacy Cancer Healing Center 
Support groups and classes
Cancer rehabilitation 
Survivorship services

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