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Colorectal Cancer

The Johns Hopkins Colon Cancer Center is one of the world's leading treatment and research centers for colon cancer.  Johns Hopkins scientists were the first to discover its genetic culprits and revealed the first map of the colon cancer genome.

The Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center also runs a one-day Rectal Cancer Multidisciplinary Clinic which provides comprehensive evaluation by top rectal cancer medical oncologists, radiation oncologists and surgeons. 

Special Event: Rectal Cancer Support Group

Watch the Presentation given on:

  • The Genetics of Colorectal Cancer – Dr. Francis Giardiello, Gastroenterologist
  • Acupuncture and Stress– Dr. Ladan Nabet, Acupuncture Specialist
  • Patient Perspective about Live After Rectal Cancer – Erich Sanchack, Rectal Cancer Survivor

Colorectal Cancer Experts

Colorectal cancer experts at Johns Hopkins offer unparalleled experience across all disciplines of colon cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis, treatment and research. 

About Colon Cancer

Colon cancer is among the most common types of cancer, while cancer of the rectum is diagnosed less frequently. The colon and rectum are part of the digestive system. Together, they form a long muscular tube known as the large intestine or bowel. The upper 5-6 feet of the large intestine is the colon, and the lower 5-6 inches is the rectum. Cancer occurs when cells of the colon or rectum become abnormal and grow uncontrollably interfering with the function of these organs and sometimes surrounding tissue and organs. When detected early, both colon and rectal cancer have high cure rates. Learn more about colon cancer prevention and screening.

Your Treatment Options Explained

Risk Factors

A personal or family history of colon and/or rectum cancer or polyps and inflammatory bowel disease have been associated with an increased risk for this type of cancer. Other risk factors include physical inactivity, high-fat and/or low-fiber diet, and an inadequate intake of fruits and vegetables. Polyps are non-cancerous growths that can occur anywhere in the colon or rectum. Though they are not cancer, polyps should be removed because they can become cancerous. Individuals who have had a colon or rectal polyp are likely to develop more and should be examined regularly by a doctor.

Approximately 10 percent of colon cancers occur as a result of inherited genetic syndromes . The most common of these are Familial Colon Cancer (FCC) , Hereditary Non-Polyposis Colon Cancer (HNPCC) and Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP) . Individuals with a family history of these diseases are at increased risk for developing colon cancer and should be followed closely by a physician. Johns Hopkins researchers were the first to identify genetic mutations related to these inherited syndromes as well as mutations that contribute to sporadid (or non-hereditary) colon cancer.  Families with a history of colon cancer or genetic syndomes can now benefit from genetic testing for these mutations. More information and a registry for patients is available from the Hereditary Colon Cancer Program.


Cancer Symptoms

Colon and rectal cancer can cause a variety of symptoms. Early warning signs include:

  • Bright red blood in the stool
  • Diarrhea that is not the result of cold or flu
  • A long period of constipation
  • Crampy pain in the abdominal region
  • Persistent decrease in size or caliber of stool
  • Frequent feeling of distention or bloating in the abdominal or bowel region
  • Weight loss
  • Unusual and continuing lack of energy


Swim Across America, Inc., an organization of volunteer swimmers and friends and family members of cancer patients that raises money for cancer research through swim events, has funded a laboratory at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center headed by oncologist Luis Diaz, M.D.  

In addition, researchers from Johns Hopkins are studying the link between dense mats of interacting bacteria, called biofilms, present in colon cancers and pre-cancerous polyps. These bacterial bunches, they say, may represent an increased risk for colon cancer and could form the basis of new diagnostic tests.