Colon Cancer

Introduction on Colon Cancer

When we eat food, it passes through the digestive tract or esophagus, into the stomach, down the small intestine, and the large intestine. The colon is also called the large intestine, and is the final stop of all digested food before it is prepared for excretion. The colon serves to reabsorb water that was used during the digestive process, conserving water and nutrients in the body and preventing dehydration. After the colon, waste materials travel to the rectum, and is excreted from the body in the form of stool.

Colon cancer is the cancer of the large intestine (colon), the lower part of our digestive system. Rectal cancer is the cancer of the last six inches of the colon. Together they are also referred to as the colorectal cancers.

Colon cancer is the result of adenomatous polyps that are clumps of cell and are non cancerous when they appear first but then at the later stage transform in the cancer. Over time some of these polyps become colon cancer. Polyps are very small and don’t produce symptoms and if they do then those would be very few. It is hard to predict the colon cancer. For the sake of preventing colon cancer, proper screening tests could be done to identify the polyps and eradicating them before they become cancerous. If the signs and symptoms of colon cancer do appear they may include changes in bowel habits, blood in the stool, persistent cramping, gas or abdominal pain.

Colon cancer Information

In 2007 the American Cancer Association presented their data and statistics about colon cancer or rectal cancer. According to them, about 112,000 incidence of colon cancer are discovered per year. This makes it the third most common cancer that men and women are diagnosed with in the United States. An estimated 50,000 deaths related to colon and rectal cancer will occur in 2007. Studies have shown that women over the age of fifty years old are more likely to be diagnosed with colon cancer as compared to men.

Causes

There are cells in the human body, which grow and divide themselves into other cells to make our functioning well. At times these growing get out of control and they keep growing and producing more and more cells even when these cells are not required. In the colon and rectum, this exaggerated growth causes precancerous polyps to, form in the lining of your intestine. These polyps stay there for the time span of several years and then eventually become cancerous by the passage of time. Colon cancer may spread to other parts at the later stages. This causes the dangerous disease to start its life in the intestine and in not cured at the right time end the life of the patient at the later point of time.

Stages of Colon Cancer

There are four main stages of colon cancer. Although its not exactly a stage, there is also a fifth stage which is used to denote 'recurring'. Knowing the stage of cancer one fits into, can help patients understand their colon cancer prognosis.

Stage 0: colon cancer: This is the earliest stage of colon and rectal cancer. The cancer is found in the innermost lining of the colon or rectum and is limited to polyp(s). Polyps are tissues bulging from the surface of an organ. When the cancer is at this stage, the recommended methods of treating colon cancerat this stage is
1. polypectomy- is surgical removal of the polyps and small amounts of surrounding tissues if necessary.

Stage 1: colon cancer: Stage 1 colon cancer is no more In Situ, meaning the cancer is no longer restricted to the colon's inner lining and has spread to surrounding parts such as the inside walls of the colon. However, the cancer has not yet affected the colon outer lining and there is no colon cancer in lymph nodes. The recommended colon cancer treatments at this stage are surgery to remove the cancer and affected tissues. Doctor's might also recommend aggressive surgery to remove all of the cancer.

Stage 2: colon cancer: In stage 2 colon cancer, the cancer has spread beyond the colon to the surrounding tissues. The tumor is larger and has extended through the muscular wall of the colon. However, the spread of colon cancer is limited and has not affected the lymph nodes. Cancer spreading in this way from one part of the body to another is called metastasis. Standard treatment of colon cancer at this stage is surgical removal of the cancer and all affected parts including parts surrounding the cancer if necessary. Doctor might also recommended radiation or chemotherapy.

Stage 3: colon cancer: The cancer has spread outside the colon into the lymph nodes present in the surrounding areas. However, the cancer has not yet spread to other organs of the body. The colon cancer treatment options involves the following:
Surgery to remove the tumor and the affected lymph nodes.
After surgery, the doctor's recommend chemotherapy.
Radiation therapy is done if the tumor is invading tissues surrounding the colon.

Stage 4: colon cancer: This is the most advanced stage of colon cancer. The colon cancer spreads to lungs and liver. To treat colon cancer at this stage, the following is recommended.
Surgery to remove the tumor followed by chemotherapy.
Radiation treatment
Surgery to remove affected parts of the body if necessary.

Recurring Colon Cancer: This is used to classify cancer that comes back after the treatment either in the colon or some other parts. Even after successful treatment of colon cancer, in order to detect colon cancer reoccurrence at an early stage, regular checkups are necessary.

Signs and Symptoms

What are the warning signs of colon cancer? And what are the other conditions that put a person at risk for having this kind of cancer?

Symptoms normally don’t appear in the early stages of the disease but when the advanced stages of the colon cancer come then some start appearing on the face of the disease depending on its location and size in the intestine. Colon cancer warning signs and symptoms may include:

• A change in the bowel habits including diarrhea or constipation and a change in the consistency of the stool for a larger period
• Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool
• Persistent abdominal discomfort such as cramps, gas or pain
• Abdominal pain with a bowel movement
• A feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely
• Weakness or fatigue
• Unexplained weight loss

Weight loss, abdominal pain and loss of appetite are symptoms of advanced colon cancer.

All of these symptoms may occur at a time or only one can be there. Sometimes these symptoms may not be indicative of colon cancer but have something else but these symptoms do relate to colon cancer in one form or the other.

You may need to consult a medical professional right away if you are experiencing frequent diarrhea or constipation. If your bowel movements are different from the usual, and when your bowel is not completely emptied. Stool may be narrower, and have signs of blood on them. Also, when you experience nausea, vomiting, pain in the lower abdominal area, and sudden weight loss, you may need to be screened for colon cancer.

As mentioned earlier, women are more prone to this type of cancer than men. But, persons who are overweight have very fatty diets, and if colon cancer occurs in the family history, are also likely candidates for having the disease. If fruits and vegetables are highly lacking in the diet, and when a person is a heavy smoker and alcohol drinker, he or she is likely to get colon cancer. Obesity and lack of physical activity or regular exercise contributes to susceptibility to the condition.

Risk Factors for Colon Cancer

Risk factors of colon cancer includes many, all of which can contribute towards the colon cancer. These are as follows:

Age: People above 50 years of age are at higher risks of colon cancer. However, it can occur in young people too.
Diet: An unhealthy diet of high fat and calories and low in fiber increases colon cancer risks.

Polyps: Certain types of polyps increases the risk of colon cancer. Familial polyposis is one such condition which definitely leads to colon or rectal cancer.

Medical History: People who have had other forms of cancer such as breast cancer etc are at increased risks for colon cancer. Also there is a high probability that colon cancer return in people who have has a colon cancer history.

Family history of colon cancer: Heredity also increases colon cancer risk. If a member of the family has had colon cancer, it increases the risk in the rest of the family members.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD): People having Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) are at increased risk of colon cancer. Ulcerative colitis: If a person has longstanding ulcerative colitis than he has greater chances of getting colon cancer. However, having ulcerative colitis does not necessarily mean one will have colon cancer.

• Inherited disorders that affect the colon
• Family history of colon cancer and colon polyps
• A sedentary lifestyle
• Diabetes
• Obesity
• Smoking
• Alcohol
• Growth hormone disorder
• Radiation therapy for cancer

All of the above stated colon cancer risk factors have enough potential to cause colon cancer in the human beings and may expedite the spreading of the cancer in the human body.

Colon Cancer Prevention

Many people ask how to prevent colon cancer? The following recommendations can assist in prevention of colon cancer:

1.Colon Cancer Screening - The starting point of colon cancer sometimes are benign polyps which are discovered by Colonoscopy or  sigmoidoscopy. Also these tests help detect colon cancer in its early stages and earlier colon cancer is detectable, the more curable it is.

2. Follow a healthy diet of low fat and calories. The following dietary habits are helpful for preventing colon cancer. Eat lots of vegetable, fruits and hole grains. Limit eating red meat and saturated fat.

3. Don't lead a sedentary life. Follow an active lifestyle.

4. Avoid smoking and alcohol.

5. Control your weight

6. Having one or two baby aspirin everyday can also reduce risk of colon and rectal cancer (do consult your doctor on this).

Remember, a healthy lifestyle prevents colon cancer.

Detecting Colon Cancer

How to detect colon cancer is a commonly asked question. Several tests exists to help in the detection of colon cancer. These include

  • Colonoscopy

  • Sigmoidoscopy

  • Barium Enema

  • Biposy

Colon cancer early detection is very important as the earlier it is detected, the more curable it is.

Treatments for Colon Cancer

How is colon and rectal cancer treated? According to the American Cancer Association, surgery is one of the most recommended methods for colon and rectal cancer and its associated symptoms. The polyps or the growth within the colon can be surgically removed via colonoscopy or laparoscopy. Radiation coupled with chemotherapy or biological therapy is done before and after such surgical procedures. The three types of radiation therapy for colon cancer are internal radiation, external radiation, and intra-operative radiation therapy.

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