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Ann B. Barshinger Cancer Institute

Colon Cancer


Colorectal and other GI cancers

Colorectal Cancer Program

Colorectal cancer is a leading cause of cancer death in the United States. At the Ann B. Barshinger Cancer Institute, a team of specialists come together to offer the most advance treatments available, while treating the mind, body and spirit of our patients. This treatment approach is complemented by strong programs in prevention, detection and diagnosis of colorectal cancer.

Read Chris' storyAbout Colorectal Cancer

The colon and rectum are parts of the digestive system. They form a long, muscular tube called the large intestine (also called the large bowel). The colon is the first 4 to 5 feet of the large intestine, and the rectum is the last several inches.

Most colorectal cancers start as a polyp– a growth that starts in the inner lining of the colon or rectum and grows toward the center. Most polyps are not cancer. Only certain types of polyps (called adenomas) can become cancer. Taking out a polyp early, when it is small, may keep it from becoming cancer.

Over 95% of colon and rectal cancers are adenocarcinomas. These are cancers that start in gland cells, like the cells that line the inside of the colon and rectum. There are some other, more rare, types of tumors of the colon and rectum.

Reducing your Risk

Research has shown that people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop colorectal cancer. A risk factor is something that may increase the chance of developing a disease. These include:

  • Age over 50
  • Family history of colorectal cancer
  • Personal history of cancer
  • Poor diet (high in animal fat and low in calcium, folate and fiber)
  • Smoking
  • Ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease

Risk Assessment & Genetic Testing

For individuals with a familial form of colorectal cancer, we can also help identify your genetic risk with the Penn Medicine Cancer Risk Evaluation Program at LG Health.

Screening is your best protection

At its earliest and most curable stage, colorectal cancer shows no symptoms. Because most colorectal cancers are known to develop from polyps, the initial goal of a colonoscopy is to detect and remove polyps before they become cancerous. A colonoscopy can also identify polyps that are cancerous, including those that have not yet invaded the colon wall or spread to lymph nodes. This offers the opportunity for curative surgery. Adults with an average risk of colorectal cancer are recommended to have a colonoscopy at age 50. If no polyps are found, they should repeat the test every 10 years.

During a colonoscopy, a physician uses a thin, lighted tube to view the lining of the rectum and colon. Any polyps that are discovered are removed and tested for malignancy. The patient is given a mild sedative prior to the procedure.
 Watch this short video for a lighthearted look at the importance of colonoscopy.

While colonoscopy is known as the “gold standard” for colorectal cancer screening because it can be used to identify and remove polyps, other methods are also available.

  • Sigmoidoscopy - allows polyp removal and detection of cancer in the lower left portion of the colon.
  • CT colonoscopy (virtual colonoscopy) - using a CT scanner to take images of the entire bowel
  • Double contrast barium enema - a detailed x-ray of the rectum and colon
  • Stool tests - to detect blood or abnormal DNA in the stool


A coordinated team of specialists

From prevention, to early detection and diagnosis, through treatment and recovery, you are in the hands of a strong team of professionals who are focused on fighting colorectal cancer. A nurse navigator guides patients through the diagnosis and treatment process. Your treatment team may include:

  • Medical oncologist
  • Radiation oncologist
  • Surgeon
  • Gastroenterologist
  • Primary care physician
  • Nurse navigator
  • Dietitian
  • Social worker
  • Therapist

Comprehensive scope of treatment options

Treatment for colorectal cancer usually includes surgery to remove polyps or tissue affected by cancer. It may also include medication and/or radiation. A full range of options are available at the Cancer Institute, including:

  • Surgery, including minimally invasive treatment when appropriate
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Integrative medicine
  • Clinical trials

Exceptional support

At the Ann B. Barshinger Cancer Institute, our specialists support the mind, body and spirit of our patients in an environment designed for healing. If you are facing a potential or confirmed diagnosis of cancer, we offer a vast array of support services and team members to help you through this process.


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