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Colorectal Cancer (Colon Cancer and Rectal Cancer)

Nationwide, approximately 144,000 new cases of colorectal cancer are diagnosed each year, making colorectal cancer the third leading type of cancer for both men and women. Thanks to the latest screening technology – including colonoscopy – colorectal cancer is also one of the most preventable and treatable cancers. You are at higher risk of colorectal cancer if you:

  • Are age 60 or older
  • Eat a lot of red or processed meats
  • Have a history of colorectal polyps
  • Have a history of inflammatory bowel disease
  • Have a family history of colon cancer or a personal history of breast cancer.

The goal of regular colonoscopy screenings – recommended for people age 50 and older – is to prevent colorectal cancer from ever happening. Most cancer cases develop from slow-growing precancerous polyps. Because the incidence of colorectal cancer peaks at age 60, the best time to start getting regular colonoscopies is 10 years earlier to help prevent cancer from developing in the first place. Through colonoscopy, these polyps can be found and removed before they become cancerous. If cancer does develop, colonoscopy can help detect the disease at the earliest stage possible.

GI Patient Navigator

Liz Harden

Digestive disease navigation services are provided by Liz Harden, CNP, who is available to patients who have a diagnosis of gastrointestinal cancer or serious non-cancerous digestive disease. Navigators are available at Avera Cancer Institute Sioux Falls and provide a constant presence for the patient and family throughout the cancer care journey. She

  • Answers questions
  • Provides education to help patients understand their diagnosis and pathology report
  • Helps patients focus on treatment decisions
  • Expedites appointments

Contact Liz Harden, CNP, in Sioux Falls at 605-322-7334

Colorectal Cancer Symptoms

Colorectal cancer is most successfully treated before symptoms appear. Getting colonoscopy screenings as recommended after age 50 is the best way to ensure colorectal cancer is caught in its earliest stages, or before precancerous polyps develop into cancer. In addition, talk to your doctor if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain and tenderness in the lower abdomen
  • Blood in the stool
  • Diarrhea, constipation, or other change in bowel habits
  • Narrow stools
  • Weight loss with no known reason

Colorectal Cancer Diagnosis

Colonoscopy is the most important screening and diagnostic tool for colorectal cancer. During colonoscopy, gastroenterologists can see and remove precancerous polyps, look for suspicious lesions, and obtain a biopsy if needed – all in one procedure. Patients who qualify for colonoscopy screening can call to make an appointment with a local physician.

  • Other screening tools include CT colonography, barium enema, flexible sigmoidoscopy or fecal occult blood tests.
  • Endoscopy ultrasound (EUS) combines endoscopy and ultrasonography to aid in diagnosing and staging colorectal cancer

Colorectal Cancer Treatment


The first line of treatment for colorectal cancer is most often colon resection – surgical removal of all or part of the colon. Often, procedures can be done using minimally-invasive techniques, including laparoscopy, and single-incision laparoscopic surgery (SILS). Compared to a traditional open procedure, laparoscopic techniques result in less pain, a shorter hospital stay and shorter recovery time for the patient.

  • When removal of the entire large intestine is required, a J pouch procedure offers patients more control
  • Combined endoscopic laparoscopic surgery (CELS) is a minimally-invasive option that combines laparoscopy and colonoscopy techniques to remove polyps or early-stage tumors
  • Gastrointestinal endoscopic mucosal resection (EMR) is an advanced endoscopic procedure to remove early-stage cancer or other abnormal tissues from the digestive tract

Beyond surgery, if needed, patients with colorectal cancer may also receive:

  • Chemotherapy to prevent recurrence if cancer has spread, or to palliate cancer symptoms in late-stage cancer
  • Radiation therapy may be offered pre-operatively to shrink a tumor to make surgery more successful, or post-operatively to prevent spread of the disease
  • Radiation plus chemotherapy may offer a curative option if the tumor is located so that surgery is difficult or impossible
  • Genetic testing to check for hereditary links which may affect other members of the family
  • Clinical trials