Cancer of the Colon and Rectum – Overview

The colon and the rectum form a part of the digestive system. When cancer affects this specific area of the digestive system it is termed as colorectal cancer. Also termed as ‘Bowel Cancer’ it affects both men and women. Generally affecting people above the age of 65 it can be treated using a combination of therapies. 


The month of March is dedicated to spreading awareness about colorectal

Colorectal Awareness Ribbon

Colorectal Awareness Ribbon

cancer. We are going to attempt to share all information related to colorectal cancer through a series of articles.

Cancer that begins in the tissues of the colon are termed as cancer of the colon and the cancer that starts in the tissue of the rectum is termed as rectal cancer. Together they form a long and a muscular tube – the large bowel. While the colon is the first four to five feet of the large intestine, the rectal is the last few inches of the large intestine that lies close to the anus. This type of cancer is more commonly known as ‘Bowel Cancer’.

As discussed above colon and rectal cancers involves the digestive system also known as the Gastrointestinal System (GI System). The digestive system is responsible for processing of food which is converted to energy. The last parts of the digestive system absorb the fluid leading to formation of waste in solid form that is passed out of the system as stool. Let us briefly look at the normal working of the digestive system.

Working of a normal digestive system

Cancers of the colon and the rectal begin in the digestive system. The

Normal Digestive System

Normal Digestive System

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digestive process starts when we chew food and swallow it. The chewed food is sent to the stomach where it is broken down. From here it moves to the small intestine where the food is further broken down and nutrients absorbed. From the small intestine, the food is passed onto the large intestines, large bowel or colon as it may be called. The large intestines are in the form of a muscular tube which is four to five feet in length. The colon absorbs water and essential nutrients from the food and also serves as a store house for waste matter. The solid waste matter (stool) passes from the colon to the rectum. From here the solid waste is passed out of the body (through the anus).

When cancer develops

Though a rare situation, the small intestines can also develop cancer. Both

Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal Cancer

cancer of the colon and the rectum have a number of things in common and hence are normally studied together. The cancer of these parts starts as a growth of tissue (polyp) in the lining that may continue to grow over years before it is detected.  This growth may or may not be cancerous but irrespective of its nature the earlier it is removed from the body the better it is.  Cancer that remains limited to the wall of the colon can usually be treated with surgery while cancer that has spread may not be easy to treat and manage.

Incidence of Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is more common in the developed countries. The burden of this type of cancer has been on an increase in the developed countries and is continuously on the rise in developing countries. When it comes to prevalence amongst the two genders it is the third most common cancer amongst men and second most amongst women the world over. The world 1.2 million cases of this cancer were reported in the year 2008 and the highest prevalence was found to be in developed countries like North America, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, and Japan. For the same period the number of deaths due to this cancer were estimated at 608,700. While colorectal cases are decreasing in the US, an increasing trend has been observed in Asia and Eastern Europe. The decrease in US is attributed to increase in detection and the increase in other regions is attributed to a westernized lifestyle.


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  • meetunayyar
  • A lawyer by profession, social worker and a fighter against cancer