Colon cancer is an increasingly common disease and it’s worth knowing something about it in order to prevent or treat it as early as possible. Since this is the most serious disease that can affect the colon, it’s important to know as much as you can about colon cancer. This article will explain everything you need to know.
Colo-rectal cancer is one of the leading causes of death in countries like the United States. Early diagnosis can lead to a complete cure. Colon cancer begins in the lining of the colon and rectum.
What are the causes of colon cancer?
There is no single cause of this disease. Most patients first see benign polyps that become cancerous if left untreated or allowed to grow in size. People most at risk of developing colon cancer are:
- Over age 60.
- Of African-American or Eastern European descent.
- Consume a lot of processed or red meats.
- Those with colo-rectal polyps.
- Those with an inflammatory intestinal disease like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.
- Patients with a family history (especially if there were cases of familial adenomatous polyposis).
- Those who eat a diet high in fat with little fiber.
- Those who smoke or drink in excess.
- Obese or overweight.
Cancer of the large intestine or colon is the second leading cause of death in Spain and is more common in men than women. Only 10% of polyps become cancerous; however, they need to be treated before too much time has passed.
What are the symptoms of colon cancer?
Symptoms can vary depending on the location of the tumor in the intestine:
- If located in the left colon, the symptoms are bloody stools, diarrhea and constipation, and feelings of incomplete evacuation.
- If located in the transverse colon: pain, blockage, cramps, vomiting and abdominal distension.
- If located in the right colon: internal bleeding, chronic anemia, fatigue, paleness, and lack of strength.
In each case, colon cancer can cause loss of appetite, drastic weight loss, fever, chronic fatigue, sensitivity and pain in the lower abdomen along with thin stools.
How is colon cancer detected?
There are medical tests that can determine if a person has colon cancer (or its predecessor: polyps). A doctor applies pressure to the abdominal area in addition to conducting a rectal exam to feel for lumps in the area.
The stool can also be tested for the presence of blood which can indicate colon cancer (as well as other diseases). Other tests check the blood for anemia and liver function.
A colonoscopy allows the doctor to see the entire intestine and check for cancer or polyps. With this test, the entire intestinal tract can be observed and samples can be taken of suspicious tissue for later analysis. If injuries do not allow for a colonoscopy, a barium enema is used to see a silhouette of the colon on x-rays.
If the diagnosis is colon cancer, other tests can determine the cancer’s extent and if it has spread by using computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in the abdomen and lower stomach.
There are five stages of colon cancer:
- 0: it’s forming on the outer layers of the intestine
- I: inner layers of the colon.
- II: has spread through the colon wall.
- III: cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.
- IV: cancer has spread to other organs (metastasis).
Treatment depends on many factors, like the stage and location of the disease. Treatments range in severity and include surgery (colonectomy) to remove cancerous cells; chemotherapy to destroy cells with cancer and radiation therapy to destroy cancerous tissue. Colon cancer is curable if detected and treated early enough. The prognosis also depends on the age of the patient, the immune system, the stage at which treatment started, etc. If five years after treatment have passed and the cancer has not reappeared, the patient is said to be cured.
Early Diagnosis and Prevention of Colon Cancer
There are many methods available for the early detection of colon cancer, but in the initial stages the symptoms can be confused with other diseases. Those over 50 are recommended to have their stool tested for signs of blood annually. Greater precautionary measures should be taken if there is a family history of cancer, including endoscopy starting at age 40 and repeated every two years. If the results are positive, a colonoscopy can be performed as described earlier.