colon cancer awareness

Colorectal Cancer is Preventable

Ask your doctor about the best screening test and schedule for you.

Colon or colorectal cancer is a type of cancer found in the bowels or colon. In most cases, it forms from adenomatous polyps (excess tissue growth) in the colon. Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) and hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) are two genetic types of colon cancer that make up just 5% of all bowel cancer cases.

While colorectal cancer can be life-threatening if not detected early it is treatable, especially if caught early. Doctors are beginning to see younger patients with this disease, but the good news is that colorectal cancer progresses slowly, and early diagnosis can lead to improved colon cancer treatment outcomes. From lifestyle changes to colon cancer screening, there are precautionary measures you can take to reduce the likelihood of developing colorectal cancer.

Learn More About Colon Cancer Screenings

Stages of Colorectal Cancer

The process for determining the severity of colon cancer is called staging. Stages range from zero to four, with Stage 0 being the least advanced. Determined by the size of the tumor and dependent on the extent of cancer spread, staging helps determine the prognosis and treatment plan for each patient based on the severity of their condition.

Stage 0: In this stage, the cancer has not spread within the layers of the colonic wall. Cancerous tissue is normally removed using local excision during a colonoscopy. A procedure called a partial colectomy will be performed if the tumor cannot be completely removed and it must be removed in multiple pieces, or if the tumor is too large and a section of the colon needs to be removed.

Stage I: For cancers that have developed from polyps and have invaded the colonic wall but have not spread outside of it, no treatment may be required beyond a partial colectomy (which includes the removal of lymph nodes).

Stage II: These cancers are larger, have extended through the colonic wall and sometimes into surrounding tissues. These cancers can usually be removed via partial colectomy with the removal of lymph nodes. Chemotherapy is considered for those at high risk of having the cancer return. Many factors affect the level of chemotherapy prescribed, and medical opinions vary widely about when it should be used for treating Stage II colon cancer.

Stage III: At this stage, the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes but not to the organs or other parts of the body. Partial colectomy and removal of the lymph nodes are generally followed by chemotherapy. Patients unable to tolerate surgery undergo chemotherapy, radiation or both.

Stage IV: Cancers in this most serious stage have progressed beyond nearby lymph nodes and the colon and have spread to distant tissues and organs. The disease often spreads to the liver but may also metastasize in other organs. In some cases, the cancer is contained in small enough areas for surgical removal. Surgery is then followed by chemotherapy to extend life expectancy. Surgery, however, is often not a viable option for Stage IV patients. Chemotherapy is the standard treatment for those with extensive metastasis.

For patients whose cancer has spread to the liver, local therapies such as ablation, which destroys cancer cells in the liver, or embolization, which stops blood flow to cancer cells in the liver via injection can be considered. These procedures require a team of specialists (interventional radiologists, radiologists and medical oncologists) to work together, providing the most advanced and comprehensive care possible.

Causes and Risk Factors of Colon Cancer

There are a number of factors that can put you at higher risk of developing colon cancer. If you associate with some or all of the risk factors listed below, we strongly urge you to consider a colon cancer screening.

  • Heredity: If a first-degree relative, such as a sister or father is diagnosed with colon cancer, then you are at greater risk. The likelihood is less so if no immediate family members have been diagnosed.
  • Diet: Studies have shown links between colorectal cancer and diets low in fiber and high in fats, red meat, calories and sugar.
  • Obesity: If you are obese (with a body-mass index (BMI) of 30 to 39.9) and have excessive abdominal fat, you are at greater risk of developing colorectal cancer. Obese men and premenopausal women are two groups that are more susceptible to bowel cancer. Type 2 diabetics also experience a higher colorectal cancer rates than the general population.
  • Certain higher risk groups: Males, African-Americans and people ages 60 and older are statistically more likely to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer.

Signs and Symptoms of Colon Cancer

In the early stages of colon cancer, many patients don’t experience symptoms. As the disease slowly progresses, however, the following symptoms often appear:

  • Bloody stool
  • Frequent gas, abdominal pain or cramping
  • A sense of incomplete bowel emptying
  • Changing bowel movements or bowel habits
  • Constant feeling of weakness or exhaustion
  • Unexplained weight loss

Although these symptoms may not be a direct result of colon cancer, if you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, it's best to see a doctor.

Preventing Colon Cancer

While some risk factors may be out of your control, taking the following measures may help reduce your risk of bowel cancer:

  • Maintain a healthy diet: Eating plenty of antioxidant-rich fruits, vegetables and whole grains provides your body with essential vitamins and minerals that aid digestive health. Limiting your consumption of red meat and processed meats also aids in the prevention of colorectal cancer.
  • Exercise regularly: Experts recommend moderate, regular exercise to help prevent colon cancer. The same regimen is also recommended for those who have been diagnosed with colon cancer, to help increase the chance of survival. Those who don’t already exercise should gradually work up to 30-minute sessions a few times per week.
  • Quit smoking: A link between smoking and bowel cancer has been established. Researchers continue to study how certain factors affect this link, including other habits, age and heredity. Smoking cessation programs are available and doctors are an excellent source of information on the subject. To learn more about Memorial Hermann's tobacco cessation program, click here.
  • Restrict alcohol intake: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define moderate drinking as up to two drinks daily for men and a maximum of one per day for women.

Detecting Colon Cancer


The American Cancer Society recommends that patients at average risk for colon cancer undergo colon cancer screening by the age of 45. The organization lowered its recommendation from the age of 50 after seeing the average age of colorectal cancer patients decrease.

Colonoscopies allow doctors to view the colon from the inside. A scope containing a light and a tube (with a tiny camera attached to the end) is used to look for precancerous polyps. Any abnormal growths are removed, and biopsies may be performed on tissue samples to determine if cancer or another issue exists.

Fecal immunochemical Test

The fecal immunochemical test (FIT) is used to detect early signs of colon cancer. FIT, which poses no health or safety risks, searches for otherwise undetectable blood from the lower intestines in your stool. This take-home medical test is accurate, at least in part because food and medicine do not affect the results. A colonoscopy may be ordered if blood is detected.

Fecal Occult Blood Test

The fecal occult blood test (FOBT) also looks for blood in a patient’s stool. Although colonoscopies are often ordered after occult (hidden) blood is found, this does not necessarily mean that cancer is present. Polyps and ulcers may also cause blood in the stool. However, polyps and tumors do not always bleed, so further investigation may still be required.

Colon Cancer Screening

Scheduling a colon cancer screening is the first step in preventing a late-stage colon cancer diagnosis. At Memorial Hermann, you can schedule a screening colonoscopy online if you meet the following criteria*:

  • You are 45 years of age or older
  • You are African American and 45 years of age or older
  • You are 10 years younger than the age at which a first-degree relative was diagnosed with colon cancer

Due to recent changes in screening recommendations, please consult your insurance provider to confirm coverage if you are under the age of 50.

Schedule a Colonoscopy

Treatment for Colon Cancer

Colon cancer treatments vary depending on the stage of the disease and other factors unique to each patient, and can include the following (individually or combined):

  • Surgery
  • Radiation
  • Chemotherapy

At Memorial Hermann, multiple health care specialists affiliated with the cancer treatment program will work together to provide you with the most advanced treatments based upon your individual needs. We understand this is a difficult and often confusing time for you and your loved ones. And it’s our responsibility to guide you through this process, clearly communicating with you every step of the way.

Specialized Care for Colon Cancer Patients in Houston

At Memorial Hermann,we are committed to staying apprised of the latest technology and treatment options. At Memorial Hermann facilities across the Greater Houston area, you will receive highly personalized colorectal cancer treatment at the location that is most convenient for you. Our Nurse Navigators can also help you with coordinating and scheduling of your colon cancer treatments, so you can focus on what matters most – healing.

Why Choose Memorial Hermann for Treatment?

Memorial Hermann Cancer Centers are accredited by the American College of Surgeons’ (ACoS) Commission on Cancer (CoC). This rare distinction is given to cancer programs that uphold the highest standard of care for patients. When you choose Memorial Hermann Cancer Centers for your cancer treatment, you can rest assured you will receive the best possible care delivered by a compassionate team of caregivers in a calm, healing environment.

Patient Stories

  • Dr. Mark J. Pidala, MD and Kathryn Moseley

    Alarming rise in colorectal cancer among younger adults

    February 19, 2024

    According to a 2023 report published by the American Cancer Society (ACS), nearly double the number of adults under the age of 55 are being diagnosed with colorectal cancer now than a decade ago—despite a drop in the incidence of CRC in the general population.

    Read More
  • Tonja Buford-Bailey

    How a Track Star's Unexpected Diagnosis Made Her an Advocate for Colon Cancer Screening

    March 21, 2023

    Olympic medalist Tonja Buford-Bailey coaches other elite athletes and is in excellent physical shape herself – or she thought she was. She drinks plenty of water. She’s never smoked. She eats a healthy diet and avoids sugar, processed foods and red meat.

    Read More
  • Dr Gajjar and Natalie Davis

    Natalie Davis: Surprise Colon Cancer Diagnosis

    February 27, 2023

    “Cancer” was not what Natalie Davis was expecting to hear. After all, she was 50 years old. She had no history of colon cancer in her family. The colonoscopy—her first—was routine. And she felt perfectly fine.

    Read More
  • Family on beach shore

    Mother of Three Surprised by Colon Cancer Diagnosis

    February 16, 2023

    Jill Schwertner doesn’t fit the profile of the average colon cancer patient. The 42-year-old resident of The Woodlands is healthy, doesn’t smoke, eats healthfully and doesn’t have a family history of colon cancer.

    Read More
  • Daniel Begnaud

    Young Dad Beats Colon Cancer, Welcomes Second Child

    March 10, 2021

    In 2017, Daniel Begnaud’s world as he knew it came crashing down when he was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer at the age of 30. A father of a 1-year-old son, he was initially told that it was unlikely he would ever have more children. On top of a cancer diagnosis, that was a hard pill to swal...

    Read More
  • Karen Echols

    Karen Echols: The Warning Signs Were There

    October 1, 2020

    Karen Echols doesn’t mince words: “I think a lot of people don’t like to talk about their poop.” The 52-year-old Houston hairdresser and mother of three, now a rectal cancer survivor, says she knows a lot about poop. But because she kept ignoring the warning signs, she came by that knowledge the ...

    Read More

Contact Memorial Hermann Cancer Centers

For more information about Memorial Hermann Cancer Centers, including how to get connected to our support services or an affiliated provider, please fill out the form below to be connected to one of our Oncology Nurse Navigators.

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If you need more immediate assistance, please call us at (833) 770-7771.

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