Overview of Colon Cancer
Colon cancer is the type of cancer that begins in the large intestine, or colon. The colon is the last part of the digestive tract. This type of cancer is typically found in older adults, but it can occur at any age. Small polyps, or benign lumps, are typically the first stage of colon cancer, and overtime they develop into colon cancer. When the polyps are small, they rarely produce any symptoms. It is recommended to have frequent examinations in an effort to prevent the spread of colon cancer. If you have colon cancer, there are many types of treatments available to control it, such as surgery, radiation, or drug treatments. Colon cancer may also be referred to as rectal cancer or colorectal cancer.
Symptoms of Colon Cancer
Some of the first symptoms of colon cancer are changes in bowel movements. You may notice diarrhea, constipation, changes in consistency, blood, etc. There may be consistent discomfort such as gas, pain, or cramping. Unexplained weight loss and weakness or fatigue are other big symptoms. People with colon cancer do not typically have any symptoms in the beginning.
You will want to see your physician if you have any symptoms that begin to worry you. You will want your physicians’ recommendations for when he/she believes that screening should begin. Most physicians will recommend that screening begin around 50 years old, but sometimes earlier if you are at high risk for colon cancer.
Causes of Colon Cancer
There is no distinct cause of colon cancer. Colon cancer occurs when the Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) begins to mutate.
Risk Factors of Colon Cancer
Colon cancer is typically found in people that are over 50 years old, however, colon cancer can occur in younger people as well. African-Americans are at the greatest risk for colon cancer. If you have already had colon cancer or if your family has a history of colon cancer, then you will be at a higher risk. There are other health problems that will also lead to colon cancer, such as Lynch syndrome, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or familial adenomatous polyposis.
It is also important to live a healthy lifestyle. The people at the highest risk for colon cancer are those that do not exercise, are obese, have diabetes, smoke, drink alcohol, or eat a high-fat diet.
If you have previously been through radiation therapy for cancer, you may also be at a high risk for colon cancer.
Preventing Colon Cancer
Screening colon cancer is the best way to prevent colon cancer. You will want to talk to your physician about when and how often screening should take place. The answer will vary between each person and physician.
There a variety of lifestyle changes that can occur to reduce the risk of colon cancer. The first step is to eat a well-balanced diet. Make sure that each plate you eat is full of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Try to change up your diet so that you get all of the vitamins and nutrients.
It is important to stop drinking, or limit the amount that you drink. Additionally, if you smoke, then it is time to quit smoking. If you do not drink or smoke, do not begin these habits.
Exercising should be done about 30 minutes daily.
Doing all of these things should help you to maintain a healthy weight. If you need to lose weight, ask your physician for more tips on how to lose weight.
Diagnosing Colon Cancer
Screening for colon cancer typically begins at the age of 50, even if the person does not have any symptoms. If you are at an increased risk, then your physician may recommend beginning screening earlier.
A colonoscopy may be used to diagnose colon cancer. It uses a long, flexible tube with a video camera to monitor the entire colon. If there are any suspicious areas, then your physician will take a biopsy.
Your physician may also ask for a blood test. A blood test does not show colon cancer, but it will tell other things about your overall health.
Once the cancer has been diagnosed, your physician will want to decide the extent of your cancer. Staging will allow your physician to decide what type of treatment will be best for you. Staging can be done through a computerized tomography (CT) scan. Staging goes from 0 to IV, with the lowest stage being 0.
Treating Colon Cancer
Treating colon cancer will vary between person and physician. Your physician will take into account the stage, your age, other health concerns, etc. There are three main types of treatment, which include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Your physician may recommend a mixture of the three of these.
There are a few different types of surgery that may be recommended for colon cancer. A polypectomy is a surgery that is done to remove the polyps during the colonoscopy. This can only be done in the first stages. Larger polyps may be removed during an endoscopic mucosal resection. Laparoscopic surgery is done when polyps cannot be removed during the colonoscopy. This is done through an operation where small incisions are made through the abdomen. For more advanced colon cancer, a partial colectomy can be done to remove part of the colon that contains the cancer. When it is not possible for the colon to be removed successfully, the physician may create a new way for waste to leave the body. Lymph node removal may also be done. If the cancer is in severe stages, then there are other surgery options that are available. You will want to consult your physician for this.
Chemotherapy is a drug that is used to destroy the cancer cells. This drug is typically given after surgery has been done to kill off any other cancer cells that remain or kill cancer cells that have spread to other parts of the body. This also helps end the reoccurrence of cancer. Chemotherapy may be used before surgery to shrink the mass.
Radiation therapy is used to kill cancer cells. This is typically done before surgery to reduce the size of the mass.