The human body needs food in order to grow, but not all the food that we take in is absorbed by our body. Some are turned into waste products. The body has a way of getting rid of all excess products in the form of food matter, water, salt, even oxygen and carbon dioxide.
With the help of the different biological systems, the body has the ability to remove the waste materials that it has used up. Some of the organs used for this purpose are the kidney, lungs, sweat glands and rectum.
The colon is part of the digestive system, also called gastrointestinal system, where waste materials are formed. The colon and rectum makes up a large muscular tube called the large intestine. As the waste material passes through the rectum, it exits the body through the anus.
According to the World Cancer Research Fund International, colon cancer is the third most common cancer in the world where at least 1.4 million new cases were diagnosed in 2012. The American Cancer Society estimates that by 2017, in the United States alone, there would be close to 100,000 new cases of colon cancer.
What is colon cancer?
Colon cancer is a malignant tumor that begins with the development of precancerous polyps found in the inner wall of the large intestine.
What is a polyp?
Polyps are mushroom-like growths that can be found in the lining of colons. Some polyps are non-cancerous, but some may develop into malignant tumors as seen in colon cancer. These may invade the colon wall and spread to all other parts of the body.
What are the types of polyps found in the colon?
There are three common types of polyps:
- Adenomas: This type of polyp can become cancerous. But they are usually removed during colonoscopy.
- Inflammatory polyps: This usually occurs after the inflammation of the colon and may become cancerous.
- Hyperplastic polyps: This type of polyp rarely becomes colon cancer.
How do polyps form?
The cause of polyp formation is uncertain but it is most likely that genetics and lifestyle has a huge influence on this.
What is precancerous polyp?
Precancerous polyp may mean two things: a growth on the lining of the colon from normal colon cells that may turn into cancer. Another interpretation would be the classification and malignancy of polyps.
Are polyps always the first sign of colon cancer?
Although there are types of polyps that may lead to the development of colon cancer, some colon cancer cases do not present any polyp formation. Some colon cancer individuals with chronic inflammatory bowel disease may have flat, plaque-like lesion surrounding the colon tissue.
The large number of colon cancer cases started with the formations of precancerous polyps.
How does cancer start?
Cancer usually starts when there is uncontrolled growth of cells, which can cause damage or mutation to the DNA.
How common is colon cancer?
Colon cancer is among the most common cancers in the world. It is the third leading cause of death among women and fourth leading cause of death in men.
People can be affected with cancer if they have been born with certain genetic mutations which can be inherited from family members.
Who is at risk of colon cancer?
Both men and women over 50 are at risk of having colon cancer. The American Cancer Society reported that more women at the age of 75 years old die of colon cancer than breast cancer.
Anyone who has a history of inflammatory disease is at risk of having colon cancer.
At what age does colon cancer usually affect individuals?
About 90% of all diagnosed colon cancer patients are above 50 years old. Colon cancer is most likely to occur in the following:
- Obese individuals
- Tobacco or cigarette smokers
- People with sedentary lifestyle
The median age of individuals with colon cancer is 69 years old in men and 73 years old in women.
Men are 30% more at risk of having colon cancer than women.
Can younger individuals have colon cancer?
Colon cancer is more common among the age 50 years and older. Young individuals who may have hereditary syndromes such as Familial Adenomatous Polyps can develop colon cancer. The average age of polyp development of this syndrome is the mid-teens.
Who are the doctors that can be consulted with regards to any colon condition?
Most doctors gained specialized education and training so they can be able to treat patients on a particular type of body system. If your doctor suspects you to have a colon cancer, he may refer you to any of the following:
- Gastroenterologist: a doctor that specializes on the disease of the digestive system.
- Oncologist: a doctor that specializes in treating tumors.
- Surgeon: a doctor that performs surgery.
- Radiation Oncologist: a doctor that uses radiation in treating cancer.
What are the causes of colon cancer?
The causes of colon cancer may be genetic or because of the individual’s lifestyle. Our busy lives may have increased our chances of having colon cancer because we lack the time to become cautious with the kind of food that we eat. Countries such as the United States and Canada may have higher rates of colon cancer because of the kind of diet that people have been accustomed to. That is why there should be a need to eat the right kind of food as well as regular exercise.
What kind of food can protect us from having colon cancer?
Green leafy vegetables as well as food rich in vitamins C and E, a good source of dietary fiber and beta-carotene may provide protection from colon cancer.
On the other hand, consumption of the following may lead to colon cancer:
- Low fiber and high fat content
- Food high in calories
- Too much red meat
- Processed meat
What medical conditions pose increased risk of colon cancer?
There are health conditions that can increase the risk of having colon cancer such as the following:
- Acromegaly (growth hormone disorder)
- Radiation treatment for other cancers
- Crohn’s Disease
- Ulcerative colitis
What are the signs and symptoms of colon cancer?
Initial stage of colon cancer may not exhibit any symptoms. However, as the cancer progresses, the following may be experienced:
- Changes in stool shape and consistency
- Continual urges to defecate
- Dark stool
- Decreased appetite
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Iron deficiency
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Pain/cramps or gas in the abdomen
- Pain during bowel movement
- Rectal bleeding
- Unexpected weight loss
- Weakness or fatigue
What is the common place of metastasis?
Advanced stage of colon cancer may affect several organs which would present additional symptoms. The most common place of metastasis is the liver.
How can you prevent colon cancer?
Persons aged 50 and above are required to undergo yearly screenings. Through these screening tests, any pre-cancerous polyps may be removed and may prevent further development of cancer.
Maintain a diet that is low in fat and high in fiber, fruits and vegetables. Getting regular exercise and avoiding cigarette smoking as well as keeping consumption of alcohol in moderation may also be good preventive measures.
What are the screening options for detecting colon cancer?
The best way on how to detect colon cancer is through screening tests wherein any polyp formation can be easily removed before it develops into cancer.
The following screening tests are used in detecting colon cancer:
- Fecal Occult Blood Test
- Double Contrast Barium Enema
- Flexible Sigmoidoscopy
Meanwhile, colon cancer test kits are also available to help you detect colon cancer in the privacy of your home.
What is colonoscopy?
Colonoscopy is a procedure wherein the inner lining of the large intestine is checked using a flexible tube called colonosope that is inserted into the anus, then to the rectum and through. It helps to find polyps, ulcers, tumors and areas where there may be bleeding or inflammation.
How often should one undergo colonoscopy?
This will depend on the degree of the abnormalities that have been found from the previous colonoscopies. It is advised that by age 50, colonoscopy should be performed and every 10 years thereafter.
What is Fecal Occult Blood Test?
Fecal occult blood test determines the presence of blood in the feces, which can be a sign of growth of polyps, which can lead to colon cancer.
Is the presence of blood in stool always related to colon cancer?
Blood in the stool may be cause by several factors such as hemorrhoids, fissures in the anus, infection in the colon, colonic diverticula, inflammatory bowel disease and abnormal blood vessels.
When trying to figure out what condition an individual may have, there are other diagnostic methods/procedures that need to be performed to come up with the right diagnosis of the medical condition of the individual.
What is Double Contrast Barium Enema?
A double contrast barium enema is a procedure that makes use of an x-ray to detect any abnormalities or presence of growth in the rectum or colon after ingesting a liquid that contains barium. Barium is a radiographic contrast that outlines the colon and rectum on the x-ray and aids in determining any abnormalities.
What is Flexible Sigmoidoscopy?
Flexible sigmoidoscopy is a procedure wherein the rectum and the colon is examined using a flexible tube about 60 cm long. It is inserted into the anus and is slowly advanced into the rectum and lower part of the colon. It is considered as an accurate procedure in determining the cause of any rectal bleeding and other symptoms such as diarrhea and pain.
Are intestinal obstructions an early sign of colon cancer?
Early stages of colon cancer do not present any symptoms. This is the reason why it is advised that individuals who have reached the age of 50 should undergo screenings to determine the condition of the colon.
Intestinal obstruction happens during the late stage of colon cancer which means that the blockage in the intestines has become severe and that normal bowel movement is no longer possible. Immediate surgery is required to remove the blockage.
Is a lump on the side be a sign of colon cancer?
Individuals with colon cancer may feel a lump. However, this is not always indicative of colon cancer as there are other medical conditions which may also present the same. It is always best to consult the doctor to be properly guided.
What is the treatment for colon cancer?
The best options possible will always be given by the physician to help their patients. The following should be able to give you an idea on what treatment can be given on a patient, depending on the different stages of colon cancer:
- Carcinoma in Citu: This is a stage wherein the cancer has not spread beyond the layer of cells where it all began. Polypectomy may be performed in removing the growth of the polyp/s or local excision using a colonoscope.
- Localized Stage: This refers to the cancer which has penetrated the walls of the colon wherein surgical resection (segmentectomy) should be performed to remove the cancer.
- Regional Stage: This refers to the cancer that has grown through the walls of the colon and has spread to nearby lymph nodes. Surgical resection of the particular segment of the colon is the only option.
- Distant Stage: At this stage, the cancer has metastasized. This means that it has spread to distant organs and tissues such as the lungs, liver, peritoneum or ovaries. Surgery may be required to remove blockage. However, it may not be recommended for all patients.
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be recommended to prolong the life of the cancer patient.
How should you prepare yourself prior to your doctor’s appointment?
Prior to your appointment, make sure that you ask the doctor’s clinic if there are any restrictions on your diet. You must also take down all the symptoms you are experiencing, whether related or not to your chief complaint. Make a list of all medications, vitamins or herbal supplements that you are taking.
Write down questions you wish to ask your doctor. Finally, ask someone to come along with you so that your companion may also be able to understand whatever the doctor tells you in case you miss out small pieces of information.