Colorectal cancer services in Denver

Colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers in the U.S. It is important to understand how this cancer is diagnosed, so you can feel confident in your care if you or someone you know develops this disease. According to the Colon Cancer Alliance, on average, the lifetime risk of developing colon cancer is about one in 20 or five percent.

Why is colorectal cancer screening important?

Screenings are important to ensure your body stays healthy and to detect any concerning developments, which may include early signs of cancer. Colon polyps are a common finding in colorectal screenings - in fact, 25 percent of people over the age of 50 have polyps. Regular colorectal screening can help detect and allow for the removal of polyps before they become cancerous.

Tests that detect polyps and colorectal cancer look at the structure of the colon itself to find any abnormal areas, usually with a scope or X-ray test. If cancer is present, earlier detection means a chance for a cure and longer life. More than 90 percent of people diagnosed when the cancer is found at a local stage survive more than five years.

To schedule your colorectal cancer screening, or to find out more about our colorectal cancer treatments, please call (877) 752-2737.

Diagnosing colorectal cancer

If you are being examined for colorectal cancer, the first thing your doctor will do is review your medical history. He or she will conduct a thorough medical exam and then may conduct one or more of the following tests:

  • Digital rectal exam–This exam checks the rectum for lumps or abnormalities. About half of colon cancers can be detected in this way.
  • Fecal occult blood test–Blood in the stool can be an indicator of colorectal cancer. Your stool may also contain blood for other reasons not connected to colorectal cancer. If you experience blood in your stool, contact your healthcare provider.
  • X-ray of the large intestine–An X-ray provides a picture of the colon and can help identify any polyps.
  • Colonoscopy–A colonoscopy is used to examine the bowel’s interior surface for abnormalities like polyps.
  • Biopsy–A biopsy allows the doctor to remove a tissue sample to then be sent to a pathologist for examination.
  • Virtual colonoscopy–This is a type of CT scan. It uses computer software along with CT imaging to examine the colon for polyps.

For those who are 50 years and older, a colonoscopy is recommended every 10 years, and a flexible sigmoidoscopy is recommended every five years. This procedure uses a flexible microscope inserted through the anus and digestive tract to examine the lower intestine. Depending on your risk, alternative tests can also be conducted. You may be at a higher risk if you have a personal or family history of colon or rectal cancer, or if you are African American or Native American. Your provider will provide the best course of action for you.

If you are at an increased or higher risk of colorectal cancer, speak with your doctor about when you should begin screening. You may be at a higher risk for developing colorectal cancer if you have:

  • A personal history of colorectal cancer or adenomatous polyps
  • A personal history of inflammatory bowel disease
  • A strong family history of colorectal cancer or polyps
  • A known family history of a hereditary colorectal cancer syndrome

Risk factors for colorectal cancer

Some lifestyle factors have been linked to colorectal cancer. These factors include:

  • Diet—If you eat a diet high in red and processed meats, you may have a higher chance of developing colorectal cancer. Diets that contain high amounts of fruits, vegetables and whole grains have been linked to a lower risk for developing colorectal cancer.
  • Weight—If you are overweight and physically inactive, your risk for colorectal cancer may be higher.
  • Smoking—Those who have a long history of smoking are more likely than non-smokers to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer.
  • Alcohol—Colorectal cancer has been linked to heavier alcohol use.

Colorectal cancer symptoms

It is important to be mindful of symptoms of colorectal cancer and to speak with your doctor if you have any concerns. Common symptoms include:

  • A change in bowel habits
  • Blood in the stool (bright red, black or tar-like)
  • Narrower than normal stools
  • Diarrhea, constipation, or feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
  • Abdominal discomfort (gas pains, bloating, fullness, cramps)
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Constant feeling of fatigue

 Stages of colorectal cancer

  • Stage 0—This is an extremely early stage. Abnormal cells are found only in the superficial layer of the colon wall. Stage 0 is also called carcinoma in situ.
  • Stage 1—This is an early stage. Cancerous cells have been found in the muscular layer of the colon wall, however, it has not spread beyond the colon wall.
  • Stage 2—Cancer has spread through the muscle layer of the colon wall to the outermost layer of the colon wall, but has not spread to the lymph nodes.
  • Stage 3—Cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes but not to other parts of the body.
  • Stage 4—Cancer has spread beyond the colon to other parts of the body, most often the liver and lungs. This is an advanced stage.

Colorectal cancer treatments

Surgery is the most common type of treatment for colorectal cancer for stages zero through three, as well as stage four if the tumor is blocking the bowel. A colon resection, or colectomy, could be a total, partial, laparoscopic-assisted or right colectomy. In this type of surgery, the surgeon removes part of the colon and then joins the remaining parts back together.

Other surgical treatments may include a polypectomy or a procedure to remove colon polyps, or a colostomy, where one end of the colon is surgically inserted through the abdominal wall to create an opening in the skin. A pouch is then attached to the opening to collect feces.

Other common types of treatments for colorectal cancer patients include radiofrequency ablation, cryosurgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy or clinical trials.

Colorectal cancer surgery nutrition guidelines

Regardless of surgery type, nutrition and diet play a very important role in the preparation for the surgery and recovery after the surgery.

Tips to consider include:

  • Follow your surgeon’s instructions very carefully before surgery.
  • Give your colon adequate time to heal and transition slowly back to a regular diet.
  • Food tolerance after surgery does not match everyone else’s. Be patient with yourself.
  • Try to establish regular eating habits and strive for four to six small meals a day.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.

If you are not on a clear or full liquid diet and are able to eat solid foods, you should still take precautions with what you eat. Try to avoid all whole grain bread, whole grain cereals, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta and popcorn. Instead, choose white bread, rice cereals, white rice and regular pasta.

Other foods to avoid before and after your colectomy include:

  • Raw vegetables
  • Pineapples
  • Prunes or prune juice
  • Dried fruit
  • Jam and marmalade
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Chunky peanut butter (creamy peanut butter is OK)
  • Tough meats
  • Fried foods
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Hot dogs
  • Sausage
  • Strongly flavored cheeses
  • Coconut
  • Raisins

About Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute

Presbyterian/St. Luke's Medical Center is part of Sarah Cannon, the Cancer Institute of HCA Healthcare. Our family of hospitals provides comprehensive cancer services with convenient access to cutting-edge therapies for people facing cancer in our communities. From diagnosis, to treatment and survivorship care, our oncology expertise ensures you have access to locally-trusted care with the support of a globally-recognized network.

askSARAH helpline

Have cancer questions? We can help. askSARAH is a dedicated helpline for your cancer-related questions. Our specially-trained nurses are available 24/7 and all calls are confidential. Contact askSARAH at (303) 253-3225 or chat online at