Colon Cancer

dr jeffrey ferris colon cancer doctor at medstar franklin square

P. Jeffrey Ferris, MD, colorectal cancer surgeon and chief of Colorectal Surgery at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center

Colon cancer occurs in the last two parts of the digestive system:  the colon (large intestine) or rectum (connects the colon and the anus). Most colon cancers (sometimes referred to as colon cancer) begin as small abnormal growths of tissue called polyps that form in these areas of the digestive system. A polyp is not cancer, but it can change over time into cancer.

The cancer can start in different areas of the colon and rectum, and may cause different side effects.

Learn more about colon cancer, including: 

See videos about why you should be screened regularly for colon cancer

The MedStar Health Cancer Network has joined forces with the American Cancer Society (ACS), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable by pledging to support the “80% by 2018” initiative – a nationwide goal to increase colorectal cancer screening rates to 80% in the next two years. Learn more about the partnership

Colon Cancer Symptoms

  • Diarrhea, constipation, or the feeling that the bowel has not emptied
  • Unusually narrow stools
  • A bloody stool
  • Bloating, cramping, fullness, and/or frequent gas pains
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Continuous fatigue
  • Vomiting

If you experience these symptoms for more than two weeks, see your doctor. These symptoms can also be caused by other conditions, so it's important to consult with your MedStar Health doctor to determine whether they are connected to colon cancer or some other condition.

Individuals with colon polyps or cancer may have no symptoms at all, especially at first. By the time most symptoms appear, the cancer is already growing, making it harder to treat. It is important to get screened, pay attention to your body and be on the lookout for anything that is not normal.


Colon Cancer Risk Factors

Research has shown that people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop colon cancer Knowing your risks will help you and your doctor make the best health choices for you.

  • Age—Most colon cancers are found in people over 50.
  • Race or background—African-American or Jewish with an Eastern European backgrounds are at a higher risk.
  • Medical history—People with ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, Type 2 diabetes, or previous cancers have higher risk of developing colon cancer.
  • Family medical history—Close family members with colon cancer, as well as some conditions passed down through families, raise the risk.
  • Lifestyle—The links between diet, weight and exercise and colon cancer risk are some of the strongest for any type of cancer. Some evidence suggests that colon cancer may be associated with a diet that is high in fat and calories and low in foods with fiber, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

If you do have any of these risk factors, talk to your doctor. Your doctor may be able to suggest ways to reduce your risk, especially lifestyle factors that you can change.


Colon Cancer Prevention

Some people inherit colon cancer, but, in most people, no identifiable cause exists. Eating a healthy diet with plenty of fiber, not smoking, and getting exercise may help prevent colon cancer but, without a known cause, prevention is challenging. This is why screenings are important.

Beginning at age 50, men and women who are at average risk for developing colon cancer should be screened. Health care providers may suggest one or more of the tests listed below for colorectal cancer screening.

      • Colonoscopy: A lighted instrument called a colonoscope is used to inspect the  rectum and entire colon. Colonoscopy can find precancerous or cancerous growths throughout the colon, including the upper part of the colon, where they would be missed by sigmoidoscopy.
      • Double Contrast Barium Enema: X-rays of the colon and rectum are taken after the patient is given an enema with a barium solution and air is introduced into the colon. The barium and air help to outline the colon and rectum on the X-rays.
      • Fecal Occult Blood Test: This test checks for hidden blood in the stool. Studies have proven that this test, when performed every 1 to 2 years in people age 50 to 80, reduces the number of deaths due to colon cancer.
      • Sigmoidoscopy: A lighted instrument called a sigmoidoscope is used to examine the rectum and lower colon. Sigmoidoscopy can find pre-cancerous or cancerous growths in the rectum and lower colon. Studies suggest that regular screening with sigmoidoscopy after age 50 can reduce the number of deaths from colorectal cancer.
      • Stool DNA Test: This test checks for colon cancer of all stages and in all locations in the colon.


No Cost Screening

You may be eligible for a no cost screening. If you or someone you know has a colon problem or if you need a screening test, call the MedStar Health Cancer Network for an appointment at 877-715-HOPE. Screenings are offered at three of our local hospitals, MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital, MedStar Harbor Hospital, and MedStar Union Memorial Hospital with transportation offered to and from appointments.

Our expertise can make a big difference in getting the right diagnosis and the right treatment, right away. Eligibility and coverage details for no cost screenings are provided below, or you can call 410-350-8216 or 410-350-3444 (Spanish) to see if you qualify. 


  • A Baltimore City or Anne Arundel County resident
  • Age 50 or older
  • Under 50 with symptoms or a family history of colon cancer
  • Living on a limited income


  • Health Insurance: We will pay for what Medicare, Medicaid and Commercial Insurance doesn’t, including: deductibles, co-insurance and out-of-pocket expenses.
  • No Health Insurance: We will pay all the costs.

Learn more:

Watch this video of a Screening for Colorectal Cancer. 

Learn more about why you should be screened regularly for colon cancer.

Colon Cancer Diagnosis

Our goal at MedStar Health is to complete the diagnostic phase promptly so that you can begin treatment as soon as possible. We use the most advanced diagnostic technology to diagnose and stage your cancer because we know that the more accurate your diagnosis, the more precise your treatment regimen will be.

Oncologists believe many cases of colon cancer can be cured, as long as they are diagnosed early. Unfortunately, most patients don't schedule regular preventive examinations and only seek medical attention when they have symptoms. As a result, colorectal cancer is usually diagnosed after it has left the bowel lining and progressed beyond the site of origin.

At MedStar Health, we advise our patients to get tested at a younger age and more frequently if they have certain risk factors such as a strong family history of colon cancer or polyps; a relative with a genetic colon cancer syndrome; or a personal history of colon cancer, adenomatous polyps, or inflammatory bowel disease.


Once you receive your diagnosis, your MedStar Health care team will proceed quickly to the treatment phase. Your doctor will discuss your treatment options with you, which depend on the stage of your cancer, whether it has metastasized (spread), and your general health. At MedStar Health, your colon/GI cancer team will carefully explain each treatment option, give you advice, and thoroughly support you throughout your treatment process.


Surgery is often the cornerstone of any cancer treatment plan. The goal of surgery is to remove the entire tumor, or as much of it as possible. You may have other treatments following the surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells and prevent it from returning. Sometimes, you receive treatment such as chemotherapy or radiation before your surgery, so the tumor is easier to remove.

      • Local excision is used when the cancer is found at an early stage. Your surgeon accesses the tumor through the rectum and removes it.
      • Resection is used when the tumor is bigger. Your doctor removes the tumor and as much of the colon as necessary and reattaches the healthy part of the colon.
      • Resection with colostomy happens if your doctor is unable to reattach the colon. In order for your body to get rid of waste, your doctor will create an opening, called a stoma. A bag is attached to the stoma to collect the waste. This procedure is called a colostomy.

MedStar Health also offers robotic surgery for colon cancer, which is a more precise treatment that minimizes the pain and risk associated with surgery while increasing the likelihood of a fast recovery and excellent clinical outcomes.

Learn from our experts in the videos below why those over 50 should get regular colonoscopies: 




Colon Cancer at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center
The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Cancer Institute
9103 Franklin Square Drive
Baltimore, MD 21237

Colon Cancer at MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital
5601 Loch Raven Boulevard
Baltimore, MD 21239

Colon Cancer at MedStar Harbor Hospital
The Cancer Center
3001 South Hanover St.
Baltimore, MD 21225

Colon Cancer at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital
201 East University Parkway
Johnston Professional Building
Suite 107
Baltimore, MD 21218

Learn More

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