Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is a type of gastrointestinal cancer that occurs in either the colon or the rectum. If it begins in the colon, it is called colon cancer. If it begins in the rectum, it is called rectal cancer. Because colon cancer and rectal cancer are similar diseases, sometimes they are grouped together and called colorectal cancer.

At UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, our experts in colorectal cancer take a comprehensive approach to your care. We meet regularly to discuss your case, and your treatment plan will be unique to you and your cancer.


Colorectal cancer often develops without symptoms. By the time symptoms occur, the cancer is likely to be more advanced. That’s why screening tests such as a colonoscopy are recommended to detect the cancer early when it is more likely to be treatable.

When symptoms do occur, they may include:

  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • A feeling that your bowel does not empty completely
  • Blood (either bright red or very dark) in the stool
  • Stools that are narrower than usual
  • Frequent gas pains or cramps, or feeling full or bloated
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea or vomiting


We will take a thorough medical history, including a review of any symptoms you may have. We will then perform a physical exam and order blood tests to help determine if you have colorectal cancer.

If the tests are positive, more tests will be performed. Most likely this will be a colonoscopy, but sometimes a sigmoidoscopy or an imaging test such as a barium enema (lower GI series) may be done first.

More than 95 percent of colorectal cancers are adenocarcinomas – cancers of the cells that line the interior of the colon and rectum. Rarer types of tumors include carcinoid tumors, gastrointestinal stromal tumors, and lymphomas.


Once cancer is diagnosed and staged (to determine if or how far it has spread), we will meet with you to discuss your treatment.

The stage of the cancer plays a large role in determining treatment options, as does where the cancer started – in the colon or the rectum.

Early stage colon cancer is often treated with surgery that cures the cancer, but surgery for rectal cancer is more complex because of the narrowness of the bony pelvis. UT Southwestern has rectal cancer surgeons who are highly trained to perform surgery for rectal cancer. We offer the latest in minimally invasive options that lead to faster recovery and the next stage of treatment, if needed.

If the cancer is more advanced, chemotherapy or radiation may be used.

We offer the latest in gastrointestinal cancer treatments, including:

  • Surgical techniques
  • Medical treatments
  • Radiation therapies

In addition, your care will include nutrition counseling, support groups, and integrative therapies.

Meet Our Colorectal Team

Clinical Trials

UT Southwestern offers clinical trials that may provide you with an opportunity to complement traditional therapy for colorectal cancers with the newest, most promising treatment strategies. Talk with your doctor to determine if a clinical trial is right for you.

Request an Appointment

To schedule an appointment with a colorectal cancer specialist, request an appointment or call 214-645-8300.