Colorectal cancer refers to the type of cancer that starts in the large intestine (colon) or the rectum (the end of the colon). There is no known cause of colorectal cancer. Nearly all colon cancers begin as noncancerous (benign) polyps, which slowly develop into cancer over time.
Diagnosing Colorectal Cancer
Tests used to screen for cancer or polyps may include barium enemas, digital rectal exams, fecal occult blood tests, and colonoscopies. Other tests may be performed to confirm the appearance of cancer, the stage of the cancer, and if the cancer has spread. Doctors may recommend a biopsy, which is the removal of colon or rectal tissue to be tested for cancer, polypectomy (removal of the polyp), CT Scan, positron emission tomography (PET), or an MRI.
There are four stages of colon cancer:
- Stage I: Cancer in the inner layers of the colon
- Stage II: Cancer that has spread through the muscle wall of the colon
- Stage III: Cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes
- Stage IV: Cancer has spread to other organs
Treating Colorectal Cancer
At Maimonides, our surgeons offer minimally invasive techniques whenever possible, and often use laparoscopic and robotic surgery. Robotic surgery, using the da Vinci surgical system, has been found to offer revolutionary precision and increased magnification in the treatment of cancers in the lower colon and rectal area, which in turn results in improved patient outcomes.
Our goal during surgery is always to remove the cancer while sparing nerves and the anal sphincter. This allows patients to continue to have normal sexual, bladder and sphincter function, and frequently avoids the need for a permanent colostomy. Surgery can be supplemented with radiation therapy or chemotherapy, or a combination of treatments if needed. Many patients with stage III colon cancer can expect to receive chemotherapy after surgery. Chemotherapy is also used to treat patients with stage IV colon cancer to help improve symptoms as well as to prolong survival.