Here are some important differences between colon cancer and rectal cancer

Important differences between colon cancer and rectal cancer

Colon cancer and rectal cancer are two types of bowel cancer.

They share some common symptoms and risk factors, but they are different in location.

Previous research has shown that the two cancers have different harms and require different treatments.

Therefore, it is important to know their differences.

Karin Hardiman, M.D., Ph.D., surgical director of the Rogel Cancer Center’s Multidisciplinary Colorectal Cancer Clinic, provides important information about the two cancers.

The locations of the two cancers are different.

The rectum is the last part of the large bowel before it opens into the anus. It is about 15cm long and can be divided into upper, middle and lower parts.

Rectal cancer often starts in the innermost lining of the rectum as small growths or polyps.

Common signs of rectal cancer include bleeding from the rectum, blood in the stool after a bowel movement, a change in bowel habits, a change in the shape or appearance of the stool and lower abdominal pain.

At the early stages of rectal cancer, there may be no strong symptoms.

Colon cancer is cancer of the large intestine (colon). The colon is the final part of the digestive tract. It can begin as small, noncancerous (benign) polyps.

Common signs of colon cancer include a change in bowel habits, rectal bleeding or blood in your stool, long-term abdominal discomfort, a feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely, weakness and unexplained weight loss.

The harms of the two cancers are different.

The rectum doesn’t have the same protective outer layer as the colon, so it’s easier for a tumor to break through and spread locally.

This means rectal cancer can pose more risks to nearby organs than colon cancer.

In addition, rectal cancer is 10 times more likely to come back after treatment than colon cancer.

The two cancers require different treatments.

For rectal cancer, the treatment start from chemotherapy or targeted radiation to shrink the tumor.

Doctors then remove the radiated part of the rectum and reconnect the adjacent parts of the bowel. This can help keep the surrounding organ function.

For colon cancer, doctors usually start with surgery because tumors in the colon pose less risk to nearby organs.

Both cancers need screening tests

No matter what type of cancer it is, the best chance of successful treatment is detecting it early through a screening test.

Colonoscopy is very effective at early detection of both cancers.

Doctors can find suspicious polyps and remove them through the test. In this way, about 90% of bowel cancer can be prevented.

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