World Colon Cancer Day: Get Tested!

March 31st is World Colon Cancer Day. It's an opportunity to talk about this issue and raise awareness about the importance of having the tests that allow its timely detection.
World Colon Cancer Day: Get Tested!

Last update: 19 May, 2021

World Colon Cancer Day is remembered every year on March 31st. The main objective of the day is to contribute to the prevention of this neoplasm, which causes a large number of deaths every year.

According to available data, the most frequent cancers are lung cancer among men and breast cancer among women. But the second most common cause of cancer in both sexes is colon cancer, which causes more than 700,000 deaths every year.

Early detection of this issue significantly improves the chances of survival, i.e. the length of time a person can live after diagnosis. For all patients, survival at 5 years is around 60%; however, if detected early, this figure rises to 90%.

People are often reluctant to undergo screening because it involves an invasive maneuver such as colonoscopy. Hence the importance of World Colon Cancer Day to raise awareness.

Since it’s an illness that can remain silent until it’s very advanced, medical guidelines propose screening at the age of 50 years or older so that tumor growth doesn’t go undetected. Many people are unaware of the existence of these screening plans, which is why communication plays a fundamental role in prevention.

Why does colon cancer appear?

World Colon Cancer Day remembers the oncological disease that develops in the large intestine and rectum. The term colorectal cancer is also a way of referring to this location.

The large intestine and rectum are the last part of the digestive tract, after the small intestine. This is where the feces are formed and will be expelled from the body carrying waste. The food bolus is dehydrated in the large intestine and stored in the rectum for expulsion.

Thus, some of the risk factors for colon cancer are related to the digestive process. Diet and type of food, as well as eating habits, appear as modifiable issues which we can act on to prevent.

A hand on a chest.
Colon cancer is a disease of multifactorial origin. Some risk factors are related to the digestive process.

Risk factors

  • Age: Colorectal cancer is much more frequent among those over 50 years of age than in the rest of the population. That’s why specialists indicate screening as from this age.
  • Family history: If there’s a family association with this illness. If a parent or grandparent has suffered from colon cancer, children and grandchildren are more likely to suffer from it.
  • Diet poor in fiber: The lack of fruit and vegetables in the diet slows peristalsis – bowel movements. When the bowel doesn’t move enough, stools stay longer in the digestive tract, and are exposed to toxins and food waste.
  • Constipation: Hand in hand with the previous factor, less peristaltic movement creates more risk.
  • Consuming sausages: Processed meats in the form of sausages undergo chemical alterations during their manufacture. This exposes intestinal cells to toxic chemicals, capable of initiating a process of uncontrolled cell replication.

Symptoms that warn us about colon cancer

As we’ve said, this World Colon Cancer Day aims to encourage screening tests because the disease can be silent. Sometimes symptoms don’t appear until the tumor is advanced. That decreases the chances of cure and survival.

A classic sign is usually the presence of blood in the stools. Not all bleeding in the stools is indicative of neoplasia – on the contrary, it’s only true in some cases – but it’s worth keeping an eye on it.

There may also be a change in the evacuatory rhythm. Constipated persons begin to have frequent diarrhea, and vice versa, those who have always had a good daily rhythm for their evacuation become constipated.

Weight loss can be an indirect sign. Cancer consumes the body’s resources, forcing the loss of energy, even if the person maintains their usual diet.

Lastly, you should also look out for non-specific abdominal pain. It’s usually a strong discomfort, that can’t be specifically pinpointed to one area of the abdomen. In addition to being intermittent and variable, it’s sometimes unrelated to food intake.

X ray of a colon.
The final part of the digestive tract is the large intestine, where colon cancer is located.

Screening for colon cancer

Since age is a major risk factor for colorectal cancer, specialists indicate screening based on that information. Similarly, family history is another key point to indicate screening.

Almost all countries and their health offices agree that those over 50 years of age should be screened, mainly through two tests: fecal occult blood and colonoscopy. If the person has a direct family history or suffers from inflammatory bowel disease, the age of onset should be earlier.

Fecal occult blood is a biochemical test. It looks for the presence of microscopic blood in stool samples, so as to detected bleeding that’s imperceptible to the human eye.

The other test, and the main one recommended during World Cancer Day, is colonoscopy. In this study, under sedation, the doctor inserts an endoscope -a flexible tube with a camera- into the rectum and large intestine. They observe the possibly affected mucosa live, they can take samples for biopsy and even remove a polyp if it’s detected during the study.

Getting tested is important!

World Colon Cancer Day is a preventive initiative. People over 50 years of age should have a colonoscopy and consult with their doctors on how often to repeat it. Early detection improves the chances of long-term survival.

And, thanks to rapid diagnosis, it’s possible to start treatment with few adverse effects before other complications appear. The advice is simple: get tested!

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