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What is the colon?


Updated: January 12, 2008

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Illustration by Donna Myers © 2007

Question: What is the colon?

Answer: The colon is about six feet long and is the part of the body's digestive system that moves waste material from the small intestine to the rectum. The small intestine sucks all the nutrients out of what you eat and then passes on the leftover waste to the large intestine, the first part of which is the colon.

As the colon transports the waste material toward the rectum, it absorbs water from the waste. It may also absorb harmful materials. The longer it takes for waste to pass through the colon, the greater the chance of absorbing such materials.

For the most part, you can tell how long waste sits in your colon by how often you poop. In general, the more you poop, the faster your colon is "processing" material.

Learn more about the anatomy of the large intestine.


  1. Goldberg, Stephen. Clinical Anatomy Made Ridiculously Simple. MedMaster, 1999.
  2. Kapit, W. and Elson, L. The Anatomy Coloring Book. Harper Collins, 1977.
  3. Komaromy, Miriam. What is Colon Cancer? Genetic Health. 21 Jul. 2000. 29 Aug. 2006 [http://www.genetichealth.com/CRC_Colon_Cancer_What_is_Colon_Cancer.shtml].
  4. Medical Encyclopedia: Colon Cancer. Medline Plus. 9 Nov. 2004. 29 Aug. 2006 [http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000262.htm].

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