Colon cancer typically occurs when a tumor appears in the large intestine. Colon cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer. It is the third most common type of gastrointestinal malignancy seen in the USA. In 2019 the American Cancer Society (ACS) predicted around 101,420 new cases in the US. The prevalence of colon cancer is increasing in younger generations because of unhealthy dietary habits. Doctors recommend attending regular screenings for colon cancer from the age of 50 and on.
Typically these cancers start in the inner lining of the colon as small growths — referred to as “polyps.” These polyps eventually may change into cancer but not all polyps become cancerous. If cancer is formed via polyp, it might grow in the wall of the colon over time. Starting in the innermost layer and grows outward through to the other layers.
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Risk Factors of Colon Cancer – Colon Cancer Causes
- Biological sex (occurring mostly in males)
- Poor lifestyle habits like smoking
- Family history
- Diets involved with high red meats and low fibers
- Polyposis syndrome
- Personal history of colon cancer
- History of certain types of polyps
- Inflammatory conditions of the bowel which can include ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease
Types of Colon Cancer
- Adenocarcinoma forms the majority of colon cancers seen in the adult population. This cancer starts in the mucous-forming cells present inside the colon and rectum.
- Carcinoid Tumors grow from the neuroendocrine cells of the intestine. These tumors often grow very slowly and are mainly found in the digestive tract.
- Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors (GISTs) start from the intestinal cells of Cajal found in the wall of the colon.
- Sarcoma a rare kind of cancer that may start in blood vessels, muscle layers, or other connective tissues present in the wall of the colon and rectum.
- Lymphoma is a cancer of the immune cells. Cancer may start in the lymph nodes, but it might also start in the colon or other organs.
Symptoms of Colon Cancer
It is difficult to diagnose colon cancer in the early stages as they present no symptoms at all. As the disease progresses, it may present some of the following symptoms:
- A change in bowel habits (e.g. diarrhea, change in the consistency of the stool, or constipation)
- Rectal bleeding
- Cramps and abdominal pain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Weight loss without trying to lose weight
- Dark brown or black stool
Colon Cancer Diagnosis
The doctor will likely ask about the medical history of the patient and note possible risk factors they may have as the first step to colon cancer diagnosis. Looking at the symptoms and history, the doctor might perform a physical exam of the abdomen to look for masses or enlarged organs. They may recommend other tests like:
- Colonoscopy: In this test, a thin tube with a light at the end is inserted into the body through the anus to have a closer look inside the colon. If any abnormal lumps or growths are found, which will be checked by a laboratory for cancer cells for a colon cancer diagnosis!
- CT or CAT Scan: CT scans are useful while doing a biopsy since it is possible to locate the exact position of the outgrowth through it.
- Ultrasound: In this test, a small wand is moved around the skin which gives out sound waves and picks up the echoes from the tissues. These echoes are made into a picture on a computer which helps in locating cancer.
- Genes and Protein Tests: Knowing which genes or proteins cancer has mutated helps the doctor decide whether to use targeted therapy or immunotherapy. Proteins like KRAS, MMR, and MSI are tested.
Colon Cancer Treatment
The main colon cancer treatment option for people suffering from colon cancer is surgery. Colon surgery may be done in combination with chemotherapy or radiotherapy — depending on the case and doctor’s diagnosis. If detected early enough, the colon cancer treatment can stop the colon cancer and prevent it from coming back. A cure is highly unlikely when cancer has reached advanced stages and cannot be removed surgically.
- Radiotherapy might be used to shrink the rectal cancers, thereby increasing the chances of removing them completely. Radiotherapy is useful when the cancer is in its early stages or if the patient has a prior condition that prevents them from having surgery.
- Chemotherapy is a kind of treatment where medication is used to kill cancer cells. The medicines stop the cancer cells from proliferating, preventing them from growing and spreading in the body. This medication is usually injected directly into the veins (intravenously) or come as oral tablets. The tablets usually involve taking the course of medicine at home and having regular checkups at the hospital.
- Why do people get colon cancer? The exact cause is unknown, though it has to do with inherited and lifestyle factors. Smoking, inactivity, and being overweight increase the risk of colon cancer.
- Who should be screened for colon cancer? All average-risk individuals should be screened above the age of 50. Those with a family history of colorectal cancer should start the screening by the age of 40.
- How long does a colonoscopy take and is it painful? On average, it takes about 20 to 30 minutes to perform. However, you will have to be at the clinic for around 2 to 3 hours to allow for pre-procedure and recovery time. A colonoscopy is a very comfortable exam because it is usually done with intravenous sedation. During the sleepy state they are in, patients are not even aware that the procedure was done.
Healthier Me Today is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment, always consult with your healthcare professional. Stay healthy!