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Colon Cancer

The colon makes up the last six feet of the large intestines and absorbs water, electrolytes and nutrients from food and transports them into the bloodstream.

Colon cancer is fairly common, affecting about 7 percent of the American population. Although it is a life-threatening disease, it is a highly curable form of cancer if found early. Regular check-ups and screenings are very important.

Although the exact cause of colon cancer is unknown, certain risk factors have been identified that may increase your chance of developing the disease. These include:

  • Age The majority of colon cancers are diagnosed in people aged 50 or older, although the disease affects all ages.
  • Bowel disease A history of colorectal cancer, intestinal polyps and diseases such as chronic ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease increase your chance of developing colon cancer.
  • Diet and exercise A diet high in fat, particularly from animal sources, and an inactive, sedentary lifestyle can increase your chance of developing colon cancer.
  • Ethnic background and race Jews of Eastern European descent, called Ashkenazi Jews, have a higher rate of colon cancer. African-Americans and Hispanics have a higher death rate from colon cancer, which may be caused by insufficient screenings, poor diet and lack of exercise.
  • Family history/genetic factors Specific genes have been identified that increase your chance of having colon cancer. If you have a strong family history of colorectal cancer, as defined by cancer or polyps in a first-degree relative younger than 60 or two first-degree relatives of any age, you're at increased risk for developing colon cancer.
  • Smoking and alcohol Research suggests that smokers and heavy drinkers have an increased risk of developing colon cancer.

Our Approach to Colon Cancer

UCSF surgeons have decades of experience with colon cancer and are committed to providing the safest, most effective care for each patient. Treatment is likely to involve surgery, radiation or chemotherapy, or all three, depending on your situation.

Laparoscopic or robotic surgery may be an option for you. These minimally invasive techniques result in less pain and typically allow a faster recovery. We also offer opportunities to try new treatments by participating in clinical trials. In addition to treating people at every stage of colon cancer and with every prognosis, our team handles particularly complicated or unusual cases that other hospitals turn away.

Awards & recognition

  • usnews-neurology

    Best hospital in Northern California

  • Best in Northern California in cancer care

  • NIH-2x

    Designated comprehensive cancer center

  • high-performing-indicator-coloncancer

    Rated high-performing hospital for colon cancer surgery

UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.