Colorectal cancer

Colorectal cancer is the third most frequently diagnosed cancer in the United States and the second leading cause of cancer death for men and women.  In 2016, it is expected that 95,270 new cases of colon cancer and 39,220 new cases of rectal cancer will be diagnosed in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. The lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about 1 in 20 (5 percent).


 What is Colorectal Cancer?
Colorectal cancer starts in the colon or the rectum. It can be referred to as colon cancer or rectal cancer, depending on where the cancer begins.  Colon and rectal cancers have many features in common and are often discussed together.

The colon and rectum are parts of the digestive tract, which is part of the gastrointestinal (GI) system.  The colon and rectum are also referred to as the large bowel, making up the last part of the digestive tract which absorbs fluid to form solid waste that passes from the body.  The colon has -four sections (ascending, transverse, descending and sigmoid) and the rectum is the final six inches of the digestive tract.

Most colorectal cancers develop slowly over several years. Before cancer develops, a growth of tissue or tumor usually begins as a noncancerous polyp on the inner lining of the colon or rectum.  A tumor is abnormal tissue and can be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer).  A polyp is a benign, noncancerous tumor.  Some polyps can change into cancer, but not all do.  The chance of a polyp changing into a cancer depends on the kind of polyp.  The two main types of polyps are the following.

  • Adenomatous polyps (adenomas) are polyps that can change into cancer adenomas are referred to as “precancerous.”
  • Hyperplastic polyps and inflammatory polyps, in general, are not precancerous, but some doctors think that if they arise in the ascending colon, these polyps may still have a greater risk of developing into adenomas and cancer.

Almost all colorectal cancers are a type of cancer known as adenocarcinomas, which start in cells that form glands that make mucus to lubricate the inside of the colon and rectum. Less common types of cancer that begin in the colon or rectum include neuroendocrine tumors (carcinoid tumors), gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST), lymphomas and sarcomas.

How Can Houston Methodist Help?
At Houston Methodist, we are dedicated to providing proactive colorectal screening kits to our patients, as well as leading-edge diagnosis and treatment options that deliver the best possible results if a tumor or polyp is found.

The mainstay of colon cancer treatment is surgical removal. In fact, when detected in an early stage, surgical resection has a cure rate greater than 95 percent.  There are several approaches to surgical removal. At Houston Methodist we offer the latest techniques and medical breakthroughs to help you recover faster and return to your daily activities. 

While surgery is the main treatment for colorectal cancer, depending on the location and whether the cancer has spread, additional treatment with chemotherapy and/or radiation may be needed to completely treat the cancer. A personalized treatment plan is designed for every patient by a multidisciplinary medical team to provide the best individual care possible.