What to expect if you have colon cancer


Surgical techniques for colon cancer offer more options than in the past.
If you or someone you love has colon cancer, we can assure you that treatments have advanced. The frontline treatment for colon cancer is surgery, and today’s techniques allow us to offer surgery that is much less invasive than the colostomy of the past.

Our surgeons perform two procedures for colon cancer – polypectomy and colectomy. Both of these surgeries remove less tissue than previous procedures, allowing the patient to return to his or her normal activities after a shorter recovery time.


The goal of a polypectomy is to remove colon polyps (precancerous bulging areas of tissue in the colon) using a small incision. This procedure can be done during a colonoscopy. Polyps that cannot be removed during the colonoscopy require surgery.

Before the polypectomy, you will have to use a colon cleanse preparation to empty your bowel the day before your procedure, just as you would do for a colonoscopy. For most patients, this is the most uncomfortable part because it results in several bowel movements and may cause some bloating and gas. However, the colon cleanse will allow the medical team to see as much of your colon as possible, resulting in more accurate treatment.


A colectomy is often performed on patients with more advanced colon cancer or polyps we cannot remove during a colonoscopy. In more than 95 percent of these patients, we remove a piece of the colon – the area with the cancer and a small, healthy section on either side of the cancerous section – and then put the colon back together. Only in rare cases is the entire colon removed. A colectomy also requires a pre-surgery colon cleanse.

We perform colectomies through laparoscopic surgery, using a lighted tube with a video camera on the end that allows your surgeon to see inside your abdomen. A laparoscopic colectomy allows for quicker healing because the incisions are smaller. That means you’ll go home sooner, have less pain, miss less work, and get back to your life more quickly. After surgery, it takes a month or two for bowel movements to return to normal.

Chemotherapy, radiation, and clinical trials

At UT Southwestern, your case is discussed by a team of experts on an ongoing basis. Medical oncologists, surgical oncologists, radiation oncologists, and radiologists review your progress to create a personalized treatment plan for your specific cancer.

Depending on the severity of your cancer, your team may suggest chemotherapy and/or radiation. We also offer our patients clinical trials as an option. In a clinical trial, you will receive the best standard treatment, along with a trial treatment that could potentially improve your outcome and help other patients with colon cancer.

At any stage of cancer, we encourage you to ask questions. A colon cancer diagnosis can be stressful for you and your family. It’s important to know as much as you can about your cancer, your treatment options, and the role of your support team throughout your cancer journey.