According to the National Cancer Institute, colon cancer is cancer that forms in the tissues of the colon (the longest part of the large intestine). Most colon cancers are adenocarcinomas (cancers that begin in cells that make and release mucus and other fluids).
New cases: 101,340 (colon); 39,870 (rectal)
Deaths: 49,380 (colon and rectal combined)￼
Cancer begins in cells, the building blocks that make up tissues. Tissues make up the organs of the body.
Normally, cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them. When cells grow old, they die, and new cells take their place.
Sometimes, this orderly process goes wrong. New cells form when the body does not need them, and old cells do not die when they should. These extra cells can form a mass of tissue called a growth or tumor.
Cancer cells can break away from a malignant tumor and spread to other parts of the body. Cancer cells spread by entering the bloodstream or the lymphatic system. The cancer cells form new tumors that damage other organs. The spread of cancer is called metastasis.
When colorectal cancer spreads outside the colon or rectum, cancer cells are often found in nearby lymph nodes. If cancer cells have reached these nodes, they may also have spread to other lymph nodes or other organs. Colorectal cancer cells most often spread to the liver.
When cancer spreads from its original place to another part of the body, the new tumor has the same kind of abnormal cells and the same name as the original tumor. For example, if colorectal cancer spreads to the liver, the cancer cells in the liver are actually colorectal cancer cells. The disease is metastatic colorectal cancer, not liver cancer. For that reason, it is treated as colorectal cancer, not liver cancer. Doctors call the new tumor "distant" or metastatic disease.