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Colon/Rectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon or rectum), when discovered early, is highly treatable. Even if it spreads into nearby lymph nodes, surgical treatment followed by chemotherapy is highly effective.

Doctor holding colonoscopy device

In the most difficult cases — when the cancer has spread to the liver, lungs or other sites — treatment can help make surgery an option for many, as well as prolonging and adding to one’s quality of life. Research is constantly being done to learn more and provide hope for people no matter what stage their cancer is in.

Risk Factors

It’s not clear what causes colon cancer in most cases, but risk factors for colon cancer include:

  • Older age. About 90 percent of people diagnosed are over 50
  • African-American race. African-Americans have a greater risk
  • A personal history of colorectal cancer or polyps
  • Inflammatory intestinal conditions. Long-standing inflammatory diseases of the colon, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, can increase risk
  • Inherited syndromes can increase colon cancer risk. These include familial adenomatous polyposis and hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer, which is also known as Lynch syndrome
  • Family history of colon cancer and colon polyps
  • Low-fiber, high-fat diet
  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Heavy use of alcohol

More About Colon/Rectal Cancer

The HSHS Wisconsin Clinical Research Institute is a top national research center, with more than 25 years of experience in conducting clinical trials. More than 700 different clinical trials have been provided to more than 2,500 patients. The ability to conduct research studies opens up new avenues of hope, as they provide our patients with more treatment options.

Research compares the best-known treatment with new treatments, which have a possibility of improving current outcomes. Standard treatments used today are a result of past clinical trials.

In cancer research, clinical trials are designed to answer questions about new ways to:
  • Treat cancer
  • Find and diagnose cancer
  • Prevent cancer
  • Manage symptoms of cancer and/or its treatment
  • Whether or not to take part in a clinical trial is always the patient’s decision. All treatment options should be considered.

One important benefit of participating in a clinical trial is the possibility of being part of a breakthrough discovery in the treatment of cancer. Clinical trials help people who may get cancer in the future. But whether or not to take part in a clinical trial is always the patient's decision. All treatment options should be considered.

Through the HSHS Wisconsin Clinical Research Institute, patients of the St. Vincent Cancer Collaborative have access to 130-140 clinical trials at any given time. Many of these trials are also available at our affiliated locations in the Regional Cancer Collaborative.

To find out more about clinical trials, call the HSHS Wisconsin Clinical Research Institute at 920-433-8889.

Certain types of screenings like barium enema or fecal occult blood testing may identify abnormalities, which most likely will require a colonoscopy for further evaluation.


A scope is inserted into the rectum, while the patient is sedated, and using a camera, the physician examines the inside of the colon. If the doctor sees anything abnormal, a biopsy may be done to determine if cancer cells are present.

Guidelines generally recommend colon cancer screenings begin at age 50. More frequent or earlier screening may be recommended if you have other risk factors, such as a family history of the disease. The recommended screening method is colonoscopy and should be performed every 10 years.

Signs and symptoms of colon cancer include:
  • A change in bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation or a change in the consistency of stool for more than a couple of weeks
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in stool
  • Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain
  • A feeling that the bowel doesn't empty completely
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss
Throughout your journey to wellness, you will be meeting with specialists in many different fields working together to provide you with the very best care possible. Coordination of your care occurs between members of this treatment team both individually, or as a group in meetings we call “Tumor Board”. Each week, HSHS St. Vincent Hospital Cancer Centers hosts meetings to allow our team to collaboratively develop individualized treatment plans to meet the precious needs of our patients. Surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, genetic counselors, radiologists, pathologists, clinical research professionals, nursing and other supportive staff all attend these tumor board meetings. All of these experts are sitting together, reviewing your history, pathology, and imaging studies and discussing the most appropriate treatment course. Between these meetings, this multidisciplinary team continues to work together one on one as needed, to meet the individual needs of their patients, according to a timeframe suitable to you.

You can be assured this team of skilled experts is working closely together to develop the best treatment plan possible to treat your cancer and to give you all treatment options available.
At HSHS St. Vincent Hospital Cancer Centers, a team of health care professionals – including surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, oncology nurses and other skilled professionals – pool their experience and expertise to deliver a tailor-made plan for each colorectal cancer patient, including one or more of the following treatments:

Colon/rectal cancer treatments may include:
  • Surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Medical oncology
  • Targeted therapy
  • Or a combination of treatments