Duke Cancer Institute Notes
Published: Oct. 24, 2011
Updated: Oct. 24, 2011
Colon cancer is the third most common cancer, with more than 100,000 adults diagnosed annually.
Duke oncologist Herb Hurwitz, MD, associate director of clinical research for the Duke Cancer Institute’s Gastrointestinal Program, is one of the nation's leading experts on colon cancer.
The colon is part of the digestive system. After food is digested and absorbed through the stomach and small intestine, what’s left goes to the colon where water from the food is resorbed.
The rectum is the final portion of the colon, where waste is temporarily stored and then eliminated.
The biggest risk factor for colon cancer is diet. Eating a diet high in fiber and low in refined sugars greatly reduces the risk.
Also, regular exercise reduces the risk of being diagnosed with colon cancer. Those who have a family history of colon cancer are at greater risk as are those who have inflammatory bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.
Another risk factor is having polyps in the colon. These are small growths -- think of a mole on the skin. Most are usually not cancerous. However, a small percentage of them can develop into tumors if not found and removed early.
The most obvious symptom is a change in bowel habits. In addition, blood on the toilet paper is another sign.
While there can be numerous explanations for this, patients should see their physician if they find blood in their bowel movements, so the cause of the blood can be checked.
The colonoscopy is the best way to determine if a patient has polyps so we can remove any pre-cancerous polyps before they develop into cancer. In addition, we can use colonoscopies to find early stage cancer when it is still easily treatable.
A majority of colon cancers can be prevented by eating well and having a colonoscopy.
When detected early, colon cancer is curable in 95 percent of patients.
Patients may receive one or a combination of treatments including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and targeted therapies (such as Avastin).
When patients are treated at Duke for colon cancer, they receive care from a multidisciplinary team. The surgical oncologists, radiation oncologists, and medical oncologists all work closely to create a treatment plan to ensure the patient is getting the best possible care.
With the opening of the new Duke Cancer Center building in February 2012, this will be even easier and more convenient for patients and physicians because the team of physicians will be located near one another. Our multidisciplinary team of specialists treats patients at our Duke Raleigh Cancer Center location as well.