What is the difference between colon cancer and rectal cancer?
Both the colon and the rectum are part of the large intestine, which is sometimes simply called the intestine. Cancer from both organs are often grouped together and this is called colorectal cancer.
The colon makes up the first five feet (1.5 m) of the large intestine. Absorbs water from feces. In general, surgery is the easiest method to treat colon cancer, which is located in a large area of the body.
The rectum is the last six inches (15 cm) of the large intestine. It is where the body stores stool until you have a bowel movement. The rectum is a narrower space closer to the bladder, as well as the vagina in women and the prostate in men. That can affect the type of treatment doctors can perform.
Types of colon cancer
Most people who are diagnosed with colon cancer have a type called adenocarcinoma. There are also other less frequent types of tumors. These other types of colon cancer may be treated differently than adenocarcinoma. The section of this guide on the diagnosis and treatment of colon cancer refers primarily to adenocarcinoma.
Learn more about the types of colon cancer below.
The vast majority of colon cancer cases are adenocarcinoma. This is a cancer of the cells that line the inner surface of the colon.
Carcinoid tumors start in the hormone-producing cells in the intestines.
Gastrointestinal stromal tumors
Gastrointestinal stromal tumors can be a type of soft tissue sarcoma that can be found anywhere in the digestive tract, but are rare in the colon. These tumors can also be other types of sarcomas that start in the blood vessels or connective tissue of the colon.
Lymphoma is a cancer of the immune system. It commonly starts in the lymph nodes, but can start in the colon.
Hereditary colon cancer
About 5 to 10 percent of people get colorectal cancer due to specific mutations in genes that are passed from parent to child, known as heredity. Colon cancer experts at MSK can offer genetic testing to see if you have inherited mutations in genes that can increase your risk of cancer. An assessment of your personal risk will indicate if you need to have these tests. Learn more about genetic testing for colon cancer and the types of inherited conditions that often cause the disease.