Colorectal Cancer

One of the top colorectal cancer programs in Georgia
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As Georgia’s largest and most comprehensive cancer care provider, Northside Hospital Cancer Institute (NHCI) is among the top colorectal cancer programs in Georgia. We provide colon cancer and rectal cancer patients with access to interdisciplinary colon, rectal and gastrointestinal (GI) cancer care services with the most powerful combination of physician experts, facilities and resources of any cancer program in the state.

What Is Colorectal Cancer?

Colorectal cancer originates in the colon (large intestine), rectum (end of colon) or anus. If the cancer is in the last six inches of the colon (the rectum), it is considered rectal cancer. Most colorectal cancers begin as benign adenomas, or polyps, on the inner lining of the colon or rectum. These growths spread very slowly, sometimes taking from 10–20 years to become cancerous. Regular screening tests can identify and remove polyps before they become cancerous. Once colorectal cancer is diagnosed, the prognosis depends on how much the cancer has spread.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. Most cases of colorectal cancer occur in people over 50. Although colorectal cancer is responsible for thousands of deaths every year, it is highly treatable if caught early.

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Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer

Most people with colorectal cancer do not have any symptoms in the early stages of the disease. In general, signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer can include the following:

  • Changes in bowel habits.
  • Blood in the stool.
  • Problems related to blood loss (anemia, weakness, fatigue, shortness of breath, pounding or racing heart, chest pain and intolerance to exercise).
  • Abdominal discomfort (frequent gas, bloating, fullness, cramps and pain).
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Decreased appetite.
  • Pain with bowel movement.
  • Feeling that your bowel does not empty completely.

Learn more about symptoms related to colorectal cancer.

Colorectal Cancer Risk Factors & Prevention

Risk Factors

As the third most diagnosed cancer among men and women, colorectal cancer risk is higher in older adults as it is rarely diagnosed in people under age 50. More than half of all colorectal cancers occur without any known cause.

Some people with colorectal cancer carry specific genetic mutations or have relatives with the condition. Those with a family history of specific genetic syndromes, such as familial adenomatous polyposis, Lynch syndrome, juvenile polyposis and Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, are also at an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer.

Additional risk factors for developing colorectal cancer include:

  • Personal history of inflammatory bowel disease (such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis).
  • Personal or family history of colorectal cancer and/or polyps.
  • Personal history of inflammatory bowel disease (such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis).
  • Race/ethnicity - African-American or of Eastern European (Ashkenazi Jewish) descent.
  • Being overweight or obese.
  • Eating a high-fat diet.
  • Diet high in red or processed meats.
  • Heavy alcohol use.
  • Long-term smoking.
  • Having type 2 diabetes.

Learn more about the risk factors associated with colorectal cancer.


The risk of developing colorectal cancer has been strongly linked to a variety of lifestyle-related factors, such as diet, weight and exercise. Knowing how closely related these lifestyle choices are with colorectal cancer, it may be possible to prevent it by making changes to diet and physical activity levels.

Colorectal Cancer Screening & Diagnosis


Colorectal cancer is highly preventable, even curable, when caught early. Regular screening for colorectal cancer detects polyps before they become cancerous. When detected early and the disease is localized, the survival rate for colorectal cancer is approximately 90 percent.

Northside Hospital Cancer Institute supports the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) and the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG) recommendations that colorectal cancer screening for average-risk persons begin at age 45. Average risk for screenings is defined as those with no symptoms of colorectal cancer, no personal or family history of colon polyps or colorectal cancer, and no personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. NHCI recommends colonoscopy screenings every 10 years if the results of a person’s colonoscopy were normal and no polyps were found.

People with a personal or family history of colon polyps or colorectal cancer, or a personal history of ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease should talk to their doctor about early screening.

In May 2018, the American Cancer Society (ACS) released an updated guideline for colorectal cancer screening. People should speak with their doctor about what screening age and screening test option is best for them.

Download our Comparison Chart of Colorectal Screening Tests.


Colorectal cancer is the second highest cause of cancer-related deaths and the third most diagnosed cancer among men and women.

Northside Hospital Cancer Institute offers specialized care for the following colorectal and gastrointestinal cancers:

To diagnose colon or rectal cancer a gastroenterologist will take a complete medical history, perform a physical exam, and may order one or more tests to diagnose including sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy and barium enema. During a sigmoidoscopy or a colonoscopy, the physician removes a sample of tissue (called a biopsy) from the colon or rectum and examines it under a microscope to detect abnormal growths. If cancer is evident, various test may be required such as chest X-ray, abdominal CT scan, and blood tests to check liver function) to see if the cancer has spread and to help determine the stage (or extent) of the disease.

Learn more about colorectal cancer and staging.

Team of Colorectal Cancer Specialists

Northside Hospital Cancer Institute’s Colorectal Cancer Program provides patients with access to interdisciplinary colorectal and gastrointestinal (GI) cancer care services with the most powerful combination of physicians, facilities and resources of any cancer program in Georgia.

At Northside Hospital Cancer Institute, we believe that cooperative teamwork is vital to success and survivorship. Because taking care of cancer patients is complex and challenging, our colorectal cancer patients are treated by a team of specially trained experts from a variety of disciplines. Our multidisciplinary GI cancer care team ensures patients receive integrated, evidence-based care, utilizing the most innovative, cutting-edge and scientifically supported colorectal cancer treatment options.

Our GI cancer multidisciplinary care team consists of the following physicians and clinical support team members:

  • Fellowship-trained colorectal surgeons
  • Hepatobiliary surgeons
  • Medical oncologists
  • Radiation oncologists
  • Interventional radiologists
  • Diagnostic radiologists
  • Pathologists
  • Gastroenterologists
  • Certified genetic counselors
  • Oncology nurse navigators
  • Clinical research nurses

Northside Hospital’s colorectal cancer specialists participate in multidisciplinary care conferences where they discuss Colorectal Cancer Treatment Options, including clinical trial eligibility, for each colorectal cancer patient and agree upon an evidence-based treatment plan. By prospectively discussing colorectal cancer cases during conference, patients get the benefit of not just one clinical perspective, but more than a dozen expert opinions.


Colorectal Cancer Treatment Options

The primary treatment for colorectal cancer is surgery to remove the part of the colon containing the tumor. Depending on the stage of colorectal cancer, chemotherapy follows surgery. If the tumor is particularly large, the patient may need radiation before or after surgery.

Some medications or supplements may help prevent the development of polyps or colorectal cancer. Making lifestyle changes, especially eating less red meat, losing weight, quitting smoking, and getting more exercise, may help prevent the disease, even in people with a family history of the condition.

For more information about colorectal cancer treatment, please expand the content below.

Click here to learn more about all NHCI Cancer Treatment Options.

Colorectal Cancer Support & Survivorship

Colorectal cancer treatment and recovery can be overwhelming, which is why we have oncology nurse navigators to guide patients through every step of their cancer journey. Northside Hospital Cancer Institute’s GI nurse navigator is a registered nurse with extensive knowledge and training in oncology, available to help guide patients after colorectal cancer diagnoses and through treatment, educating and supporting cancer patients to make informed decisions. The cancer patient navigation team works with radiologists, surgeons, oncologists and other colorectal cancer specialists to coordinate treatment.

Support provided by oncology nurse navigators includes:

  • Clinical information and education on rectal and colon cancers.
  • Answering questions about diagnosis, treatments and any side effects experienced.
  • Starting and facilitating communication between the patient and their care team.
  • Access to emotional and psychological support, including referrals to counseling services and available support groups.
  • Health monitoring and overall cancer treatment progress.

To learn more about oncology patient navigation or to speak with an oncology nurse navigator, please call 404-300-2800 or email [email protected].

Ongoing support is crucial when facing cancer and afterward. Northside Hospital Cancer Institute provides a full range of Support and Survivorship programs and services to address the unique needs of colorectal cancer patients.

For patients that need help with getting to and from their colorectal cancer treatment and doctor appointments, Northside Hospital Cancer Institute has funding available through our Colorectal Cancer Transportation Assistance Program.