Colon cancer

Find out more about the symptoms and the most commonly used diagnostic tests and treatment types for colon cancer on this page.

Visit the NKI Colon Cancer Center to read more about our specialists, patient satisfaction rates, innovation, and news.

Population screening

If your screening results showed an abnormality, we can see you at our hospital. You can make an appointment for an intake consultation at the Netherlands Cancer Institute through the website of your screening center.

Jolanda van Dieren in gesprek (maagkanker)

Symptoms and types of colon cancer

Signs and symptoms of colon cancer include:

  • a persistent change in your bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation or a change in the consistency of your stool;
  • rectal bleeding or blood in your stool;
  • persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain;
  • a feeling that your bowel doesn't empty completely;
  • weakness or fatigue;
  • Unexplained weight loss.

If you experience any of these symptoms it might be wise to come in for an examination, even if these symptoms don’t necessarily mean that you have colon cancer. Colon cancer most commonly occurs in people who are over 50 years old. 90% of patients are over 50 when they receive their diagnosis, although colon cancer does occur in people younger than that.

Colon cancer is nearly always the result of a polyp in the lining of the colon. Polyps are benign clumps of cells in the colon that can turn malignant. Cancer can develop in various parts of the colon. About 70% of tumors occur in the lower parts of the colon: the rectum. This is why colon cancer is also known as colorectal cancer – an umbrella term for tumors in the colon and rectum.

Colon cancer is diagnosed about 14,000 times a year (source: IKNL). Colon cancer is one of the most common types of cancer. About 5% of people diagnosed with this cancer type have a genetic disorder that increases the risk of cancer. The most common syndrome is the Lynch Syndrome, but familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), MUTYH-associated polyposis (MAP), and other less common polyposis syndromes also increase your risk of developing colon cancer. Click here for more information about the Lynch Syndrome

Darmkanker Infografhic still


Before you start your treatment, we do diagnostic examinations to find the exact location of your tumor, its type, growth speed, and any potential metastases that may have spread throughout your body. For most patients, these diagnostics will be one or more of the following: tissue biopsy, colonoscopy, CT scan, MRI scan, sigmoidoscopy, or tumor markers.

Your case will be discussed during a multidisciplinary team meeting. This means that colon cancer specialists come together to discuss and decide on the best treatment for your specific case. We will openly and honestly inform you about the different treatment options, the rates of success, and the consequences. This allows you to make a well-informed decision on your preferred treatment plan.

5 days

rapid diagnostics

You can usually get rapid diagnostics within five days

Rapid diagnostics for colon cancer

Treatment options colon cancer

Your exact treatment options will depend on the tumor type and stage. Your overall health and shape will also affect your options. We will inform you about the process beforehand, and you will have plenty of time to ask questions. Your treatment will most likely consist of one or more of the following treatments:

Frequently asked questions

What is colon cancer?

Colon cancer is usually the result of a polyp in the lining of the colon. A polyp is a clump of cells found in the lining of the colon. Polyps can grow malignant. Colon cancer can develop anywhere in the colon, but about 65% starts on the left side. About a third develops in the lower part of the colon: the rectum. We call this rectal cancer.

What causes colon cancer?

The causes of colon cancer are often unclear. A healthy diet and plenty of physical exercise are important in the prevention of colon cancer. Research shows that an unhealthy weight can increase the risk of colon cancer. Eating red meat like beef or pork, or processed meats like sausages and meat products, can also increase the risk. Colon cancer is most common in men and women older than 60. About 5% of patients have a genetic disorder that increases the risks of colon cancer, and about 10 to 15% of people have a hereditary predisposition for its development.

What are the symptoms?

Possible symptoms are anemia, bloody stool, constipation, changes in bowel habits, or feeling the urge without a cause. Some people don’t experience any symptoms.

What should I do if colon cancer runs in my family?

A small amount of colon cancer cases - about 5% - are hereditary. If colon cancer occurs at a young age, or if multiple people in your family have developed this disease, you may want to consider genetic screening. You will be referred to the Hereditary Cancer Clinic (Polikliniek Familiare Tumoren; PFT) at the Netherlands Cancer Institute. Your medical history will be examined at the clinic, together with the histories of your family members, and we will assess whether you are at risk for hereditary cancer and whether genetic testing is necessary. Depending on the results of these tests, the risk of (re)developing cancer for you and your family members will be calculated, and depending on your risk, you and your family will receive advice on periodic check-ups and preventive measures.

When should I consider a second opinion?

It never hurts to ask for a second opinion. The best moment for a second opinion is right before the start of your treatment. After discussing the recommended treatment with our specialist, you can decide where you would prefer to receive your treatment. If you have already started treatment, we usually recommend that you continue at the hospital where you started, unless we found a suitable trial you can participate in.

The specialists have discussed my case and treatment plan with specialists from the Netherlands Cancer Institute. Is this the same as a second opinion?

The Netherlands Cancer Institute specialists take on a national advisory role in several other hospitals, to discuss patient cases and share knowledge. Some patients who qualify for a particular treatment type only available at the NKI will be referred. Our medical advice to specialists may differ from medical advice offered to patients because we keep the possibilities of the concerning hospital in mind. Our advice may also be different when patients are seen by specialists at the Netherlands Cancer Institute.

Why the NKI Colon Cancer Center?

Our colon cancer specialists work together in order to reach the correct diagnosis and find the most effective treatment form. We conduct research into new treatment forms and we use the latest technology. You will have a primary contact point during your treatment who can answer all your questions, and we prioritize psychosocial guidance. You can read more about our quality of colon cancer care on this page.

What kinds of factors will determine my treatment options?

Treatment for colon cancer depends on several factors. Some important factors are:
• the presence of metastases
• tumor growth into the layers of the wall of the colon
• the tumor’s location in the colon
• personal factors like age, physical health, and response to treatment.

Are there any trials looking into new treatment options and would I qualify for participation?

On average, we have 40 running trials for colon cancer treatment at any given time. Every study focuses on a particular target audience. Your practicing physician will discuss your options with you.

Why is there a colorectal cancer population screening?

Population screening can help us detect colorectal tumors much earlier. When discovered early, colon cancer will respond better to treatment, and treatment usually will be milder. We can also detect and remove polyps before they turn into cancer. You can find other frequently asked questions about population screening at the RIVM website

Read more about scheduling an appointment or second opinion

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