The Types of Colon Cancer

There are several different types of colon cancer, each with its own unique characteristics and treatment options. In this section, we will discuss the most common types of colon cancer.

Overview of Colon Cancer and its Symptoms

Colon cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is a malignancy that begins in the colon or rectum. It typically starts as small, noncancerous clumps of cells called polyps. Over time, some of these polyps can evolve into colon cancers.

Symptoms of colon cancer often remain unnoticed in the early stages but may include changes in bowel habits, persistent abdominal discomfort, blood in the stool, weakness or fatigue, and unexplained weight loss. It’s crucial to schedule regular screening tests to identify colon cancer at early stages, when treatment is most effective.

Different Types of Colon Cancer

There are several types of colon cancer, with the most common being Adenocarcinomas, accounting for about 96% of all cases. Adenocarcinomas start in cells that produce mucus to lubricate the inside of the colon and rectum.

Less common types include Carcinoid tumors, which begin in hormone-producing cells of the intestine; Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs), starting in the interstitial cells of Cajal within the wall of the colon; and Lymphomas, which typically start in the lymph nodes but can also start in the colon, rectum, or other organs.

Each type of colon cancer brings unique challenges and requires specific treatment strategies. Early detection through regular screening remains the key to effective treatment and control.

a. Adenocarcinoma

Adenocarcinomas constitute the vast majority of colon cancers and originate in the glandular cells that line the inside of the colon and rectum. These cancers typically start as adenomatous polyps, a specific type of polyp that may transform into cancer over time.

b. Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma of the colon and rectum is rare, accounting for less than 0.5% of all colorectal cancers. They begin in the squamous cells that line the surface of the skin and the passages of the respiratory and digestive tracts. Despite its rarity in the colon and rectum, squamous cell carcinoma is aggressive and often diagnosed at advanced stages.

c. Small Cell Carcinoma

Small cell carcinoma is also a rare type of colon cancer. It primarily occurs in other areas of the body like the lung. When it does occur in the colon, it is often aggressive and may require extensive treatment, including surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation therapy.

d. Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors (GIST)

Gastrointestinal stromal tumors, or GISTs, are uncommon tumors that start in very early forms of cells in the wall of the colon. While these can occur anywhere within the digestive tract, they are infrequently found in the colon. Treatment for GIST often involves targeted therapy with drugs that specifically halt the growth of these tumors.

Diagnosis & Treatment Options for Each Type of Colon Cancer


The diagnosis of adenocarcinomas often involves a colonoscopy, where a small sample of the polyp is taken for further analysis. If cancer is confirmed, more tests are done to determine the stage of the cancer. Treatment for adenocarcinoma generally involves a combination of surgery to remove the polyps, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and targeted drug therapy.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma is usually diagnosed through a biopsy during a colonoscopy. Due to its aggressive nature, treatment often needs to be aggressive as well. This can include wide surgical excision, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.

Small Cell Carcinoma

Small cell carcinoma of the colon is diagnosed through pathology as well. The treatment for small cell carcinoma is intense and may involve chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery.

Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors (GIST)

GISTs are diagnosed through a combination of endoscopy, biopsy, and imaging tests such as CT or MRI scans. Treatment often involves surgery to remove the tumor and targeted therapy with drugs such as imatinib (Gleevec) which specifically targets the proteins that these tumors typically overproduce.

Each person’s treatment will be individualized based on the type of cancer, its stage, and the person’s overall health. It’s crucial to discuss all options with a healthcare provider to make the most informed decision.

Risk Factors for Developing Colon Cancer

Certain risk factors increase the likelihood of developing colon cancer. These include age, as colon cancer is more prevalent in individuals over 50. Family history also plays a significant role, as those with a close relative who has suffered from colon or rectal cancer have a higher risk. Personal history of polyps or inflammatory intestinal conditions like Crohn’s disease can also enhance the risk.

Lifestyle factors such as a diet low in fiber and high in fat or calories, lack of regular physical activity, obesity, alcohol consumption, and tobacco use can also contribute to increased risk of developing colon cancer. Additionally, individuals with Type 2 diabetes are more likely to develop colon cancer.

It is important to remember that having one or more risk factors does not guarantee the development of the disease, but it does increase the odds. Regular screenings and a healthy lifestyle can help in early detection and prevention of colon cancer.

Tips to Reduce the Risk of Developing Colon Cancer

Adopting a healthy lifestyle can significantly reduce the risk of developing colon cancer. Here are a few tips to follow:

  1. Maintain a Balanced Diet: Regularly consume a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These foods are rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants, which are essential for maintaining colon health.
  2. Stay Active: Engaging in regular physical activity can help maintain a healthy weight, which in turn reduces the risk of colon cancer. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise most days of the week.
  3. Limit Alcohol Consumption: Alcohol is known to increase the risk of various cancers, including colon cancer. It’s advisable to limit intake to no more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.
  4. Avoid Smoking: Long-term smoking is associated with an increased risk of many types of cancer, including colon cancer. Quitting smoking at any age can significantly reduce the risk.
  5. Get Regular Screenings: Regular colon cancer screenings can often detect precancerous polyps, which can be removed before they turn into cancer. The recommended age to start screening has recently been lowered from 50 to 45 years by The American Cancer Society.

Remember, these tips are generally good health practices and are beneficial for overall well-being, not just for preventing colon cancer. Always consult with healthcare professionals for personalized advice.

Resources for Help or Support with Dealing with a Diagnosis of Colon Cancer

Following a diagnosis of colon cancer, you may find yourself in need of emotional, practical, and/or financial support. Numerous resources are available to assist you during this challenging time:

  1. American Cancer Society: This national organization offers a wide range of resources, from helping to understand your diagnosis and treatment options, to connecting with support groups and community resources (American Cancer Society).
  2. Cancer Support Community: This resource provides a safe space to connect with others who are in similar situations. They offer a helpline, online chat, and a community of support (Cancer Support Community).
  3. Colon Cancer Coalition: This organization focuses on colon cancer specifically and offers resources ranging from personal stories to advice on managing treatment side effects (Colon Cancer Coalition).
  4. National Cancer Institute: This governmental agency provides up-to-date, research-backed information about colon cancer, as well as resources for locating treatment centers (National Cancer Institute).

Finding a support network, whether online or in your local community, can be immensely helpful in dealing with a colon cancer diagnosis. Remember, you are not alone and there are resources available to help. It’s always okay to reach out for support.


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