What you need to know about Colon Cancer

Facts & Stats

Colon cancer is a cancer which affects the colon or the large intestine. The colon is actually the last part of digestive tract. Colon cancer mostly affects older men and women, even though it can be seen at any age. The condition generally starts as small and benign clumps of cells known as polyps which develop inside the colon. Eventually over time certain polyps can progress to turn to colon cancers. It is one of the most frequently occurring types of cancer in India and the rest of the world. Doctors recommend screening tests on a regular basis to avoid colon cancer.

Symptoms

Here are the main symptoms associated with colon cancer:

  • Rectal bleeding
  • A major change in the bowel movements
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Change in stool consistency
  • Persistent abdominal discomfort like gas, cramps or pain
  • A sensation that the bowels are not completely emptied

A lot of people having colon cancer do not experience any symptoms at the initial phases. Once the symptoms start to show, they probably differ from one patient to another. It depends on the size of the cancer as well as the location of the tumor in the large intestine.

Stages

Colon cancer is staged from I to IV which helps doctors to identify the progression of the condition. Stage I colon cancers mainly affect only innermost parts of the rectum or colon. At this stage, there is a high chance that the condition can be treated with maximum success. Stage II cancers show greater extension and spreading of the tumor through colon wall into the adjacent structures. During Stage III, the colon cancer starts impacting the local lymph nodes. Once the condition has reached Stage IV, it becomes metastatic and spread to the lymph nodes and distant organs far from the location of the original tumor.

Causes

The medical experts are not exactly sure about the exact causes for colon cancer. The cells inside the colon starts to multiple and produce new cells even when they are not needed. This happens due to a change in their DNA structure. Ultimately the cells create a tumor. Doctors have detected certain risk factors which increase the chances of colon cancer. These are stated below:

  • Old age
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Radiation therapy
  • A high-fat, low-fiber diet
  • Colon cancer in family history
  • An inactive and sedentary lifestyle
  • Personal history of polyps or colorectal cancer
  • Inflammatory intestinal conditions like chronic ulcerative colitis
  • Inherited syndromes which enhance the chances of colon cancer risk

Diagnosis

Colonoscopy is the standard procedure that is used for the detection of colon cancer. Colon polyps can be removed with the help of the colonoscope. Another diagnostic procedure known as Sigmoidoscopy is used for examining the left part of the colon and the rectum using a flexible scope. Removal of polyps and cancer biopsy may be performed with the help of sigmoidoscope. In case of advanced stage colon cancer, CT scans may be performed on the liver, lungs and abdomen to detect for the spreading of the tumor. Positron emission tomography or PET scans can help to detect increased metabolic activities in the cancerous tissues. Carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) is a blood test that can be performed for diagnostic purposes.

Treatment

Treatment of colon cancer is mainly carried out through surgery, and the type of procedure to be used depends on the stage of the cancer. Early stage colon cancer can be treated by polypectomy, endoscopic mucosal resection or a laparoscopic surgery. Advanced level colon cancers can be cured with partial colectomy, ostomy or lymph node removal surgery. Additional procedures to treat colon cancers include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, targeted drug therapy and proton beam therapy. The doctor may also recommend palliative care to deal with the pains that are associated with colon cancer. Additional drugs may also be used to improve the results.

Prevention

The best way to prevent colon cancer is to get the condition detected early so that the polyps can be removed quickly before they turn malignant. A person must also stay physically active and get regular exercise to reduce the chances of colon cancer. Hormone replacement therapy has been proven to be effective to minimize the chances of colon cancer in women at post-menopausal stage. Genetic counseling is recommended for men and women who have a long history of cancer in the family. It is also important to include fiber rich foods in the diet so that colon health is maintained.