What is colon cancer?

Your colon is the long, tube-like organ (also known as the large intestine) that helps your body digest food. A healthy colon takes the water and nutrients out of the food you eat, and leaves a solid waste that your body gets rid of through the rectum and anus. If you could stretch out the colon, it would be about 6 feet long.

The term "cancer"describes a group of diseases characterized by the unneeded growth and multiplication of abnormal, or damaged, cells.

Every cell in a person's body has its own life cycle. Each cell will grow, divide, and die when it becomes old or damaged. These cells are then replaced with new cells and the cycle continues. This is the body's way of keeping itself healthy. However, sometimes a cell becomes so damaged that it does not die when it should, and this controlled pattern is broken. These damaged cells continue to grow and multiply at their own rate even though the body does not need them. This is how a tumor is formed. Not all tumors are harmful, but some tumors can spread to nearby tissues and even other organs. These tumors are known as malignant, or cancerous, tumors.

Cancers are named for the part of the body in which they start to grow, so colon cancer is a cancer that grows in the colon. This kind of cancer starts as a polyp, or small collection of abnormal cells. Polyps do not cause any symptoms.

What is the difference between "colon" and "colorectal" cancer?

"Colorectal"(from "colon" plus "rectum") cancer includes colon cancer and cancer of the rectum. Most colorectal cancer is in the colon.

For more information about colon cancer, visit our resources page.