Healthy Living

Colon Cancer: What You Should Know

Colon Cancer: What You Should Know

Key Takeaways

  • Colon cancer is also called the bowel or rectal cancer.
  • Most cases of colon cancer starts from the inner lining of the colon.
  • The main symptoms of colon cancer are blood in the stools, abdominal pain and changes in bowel habits.

Colon Cancer is a type of cancer that can develop anywhere in the colon. It can also be referred as bowel or rectal cancer depending on the area where it had spread. Cancer may also start in the small intestine but these cases are rare.

Most cases of colon cancer first occur in the inner-lining of the colon. The cancer usually starts as polyps. But, having polyps does not mean that a person will have cancer in the future. The exact cause of bowel cancer is still unknown. However, there are a number of factors that could lead to the development of colon cancer.

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The chances of developing colon cancer increases as a person gets older. People who are 60 years and older are at a higher risk of getting a colon cancer. The family history of colon cancer also increases the risk of this condition especially if a close relative below the age of 50 was diagnosed with it.

There is evidence suggesting that red meat and processed meat consumption can increase the risk of developing colon cancer. Smoking, obesity, decreased physical activity and alcohol consumption are also associated with the development of colon cancer.

Symptoms of Colon Cancer

The main symptoms of colon cancer are blood in the stools, abdominal pain and changes in bowel habit. However, these symptoms are so common that it is difficult to tell if a person has colon cancer. For example, blood in the stool is frequently caused by hemorrhoids while abdominal pain and changes in bowel movement may be caused by a food that was consumed.

The symptoms of colon cancer are more significant in people who are above 60 years of age. If the symptoms persist despite the simple treatments, advanced treatment methods should be considered.

 Many patients with colon cancer present a combination of the following symptoms:

  • Constant change in bowel habits which result in looser stools or frequent trips to the bathroom usually with blood in the stools.
  • Blood in the stools even if there are no other symptoms of hemorrhoids such as itching, pain or discomfort, lump on the rectum and soreness.
  • Persistent change in bowel movements accompanied by abdominal pain without blood in the stools.
  • Abdominal pain, bloating or discomfort which is often provoked by eating for weight loss or reduced food consumption.

Blood in Stools

Blood in the stool is an important symptom of colon cancer. However, it may also be caused by various factors aside from cancer.

The most common cause of blood in the stool is hemorrhoids especially if the blood is fresh and bright red. Blood that comes from higher areas does not look bright red. In this case, blood may be dark red or black which makes the stool look like tar. This kind of bleeding can be a sign of colon cancer or a bleeding stomach ulcer.

Usually, the bleeding is not severe and it is not noticed in many cases. However, regular bleeding can lead to anemia.

It is very important to seek medical attention if you notice blood in your stools. Usually, if the doctor does not feel a lump or see anything abnormal after a rectal examination, colon cancer tests may be recommended.

Treatment

Colon cancer is a serious condition and should warrant a degree of caution. Having said that, colon cancer is one of the most treatable forms of cancer and with a combination of personalized treatment and surgery if necessary, can lead to the recession of cancer in an individual. Early detection and prevention play a large role in the efficacy of all cancer treatment options. By considering the stage of the cancer and the degree to which it has affected other organs and systems, the least invasive treatment options can be determined.

Early-stage colon cancer falls into the aforementioned form of cancer and requires minimally invasive procedures. It is advisable to opt for a colonoscopy as soon as possible if you feel like you are experiencing symptoms of colon cancer. This procedure is used in early-stage colon cancer and involves the removal of polyps found within the colon. These polyps can be cancerous or benign in nature, but tend to be the cause of this form of colon cancer. The polyps can be removed only if they have not increased in size and are small enough to be removed during a colonoscopy.

As colon cancer progresses without proper identification and diagnosis, polyps can become enlarged and a procedure called endoscopic mucosal resection will be required. Because of the enhanced growth of the polyps, this procedure requires a small amount of lining from the colon to be removed along with the polyps.

The final form of minimally invasive surgery includes a laparoscopic surgery.  This is more complex than endoscopic mucosal resection and other methods used in treating early-stage colon cancer and requires more incisions. Several incisions are made through the abdominal wall and cameras are fed through the colon. This method is used only when endoscopic mucosal resection is not possible due to the size of the polyps.

In more severe cases when the cancer has spread through the entire colon or to adjacent tissues, more invasive measures become necessary. There are three forms of invasive methods required in severe cases of colon cancer. One such procedure is known as a partial colectomy. This procedure involves a surgeon removing a part of the colon affected by cancer. Some adjacent tissues of the colon may also be removed to ensure the spread of cancer is halted. Upon removing the infected tissues and sections of the colon, the remaining health portions of the colon and rectum are reconnected. Complete recovery of the operated area happens in a a case-by-case basis.

The removal of lymph nodes is common during colon cancer procedures and they are also scrutinized in the lab for the existence of cancer. Apart from these lesser known treatments and surgeries, common procedures such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy also exist.

Alternative treatment options which may not directly benefit the remission of cancer are used to improve mood, overall health and support bodily systems instead. They can include music or art therapy, dance, exercise or even meditation.

Coping and Prevention

Keep your friends and family close as emotional support is extremely beneficial in the treatment of most conditions and diseases. By simply having someone around who can relate to your predicament can make a big difference in your emotional stability when managing colon cancer.

Simple dietary steps and reduction of alcohol consumption can help in the prevention of colon cancer. When dietary steps are coupled with exercise and body weight maintenance, the likelihood of cancer contraction is reduced. In the case of high risk individuals, some medications have shown the ability to reduce the risk of precancerous polyps. Some cases of polyps and colon cancer have shown a reduced or decellerated growth from the regular use of aspirin. Though an official causality has not been produced, it is still worth discussing with your doctor.