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HomeHealth A-Z Colon Cancer
Colon Cancer
Colon Cancer
Approximately 90% of all colon cancer cases are diagnosed after the age of 50.

Colon Cancer

(KOH-lin KAN-sur)

Definition of Colon Cancer

Cancer is a disease caused by the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body. Colon cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the colon (large intestine), which is part of the body's digestive system.

Description of Colon Cancer

Colon cancer is a common cancer and each year more and more cases of colon cancer are detected. The following information on colon cancer will serve to educate you on what colon cancer is, its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.

Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in men in the United States. Only lung and prostate cancers are more common. Women also are affected frequently by colon cancer as it is the third most common cancer among women as well. Breast cancer and lung cancer are the other two more common cancers in women. Approximately 10% of all cancers in the United States each year are colon or colorectal cancer while 10% of deaths are a result of this specific cancer. Colon cancer is cancer specifically of the colon while colorectal cancer is of the lower colon and rectum.

Generally, small growths in the colon or rectum called polyps appear. These are harmless growths until they begin growing. At this point when the polyps are growing at a fast rate then they may become malignant. When the polyps become malignant then the colon cancer will need treatment. Delaying treatment will reduce the odds of survival.

Causes and Risk Factors of Colon Cancer

Researchers and doctors have not detected the cause of colorectal cancer. However, there are quite a few risk factors that have been identified. Knowing the risk factors means that care may be taken to catch colon cancer in its earliest stages when survival is more likely.

Sedentary Lifestyle

Those with a sedentary lifestyle who don’t get much or any physical activity have a higher risk factor for colon cancer.

Diet

Those who eat little fiber but a diet high in fat also have a higher risk factor for colon cancer.

Family History

Approximately 10% of colon cancer cases are believed to be genetic. That means family members with colon cancer are a warning sign to their other relatives to be on the lookout for colon cancer.

Age

The older an individual is the more likely colon cancer is. Approximately 90% of all colon cancer cases are diagnosed after the age of 50.

Colorectal Cancer History

Individuals who have had colorectal cancer once have a higher chance of getting it again in a different place.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Individuals with inflammatory bowel disease, which is a blanket term for many different colon ailments, have a higher chance of developing colon cancer. When ulcers appear on the bowel lining then colon cancer is a possibility in the future.

Recurring Intestinal Polyps

Individuals who develop intestinal polyps frequently have a higher risk of colon cancer than individuals without intestinal polyps.

Symptoms of Colon Cancer

Bleeding is the typical first sign of colon cancer. Also, blood in the feces is a warning sign. After the cancer has been present for some time a person’s bowel movements may become narrower or simply different.

Other symptoms include gassiness, stomach cramps, constipation, gas pains, diarrhea, and general stomach pain. Lethargy, unexplained weight loss, and feeling as if the bowel movement is not complete are other symptoms.

Diagnosis of Colon Cancer

A fecal occult blood test and a physical exam are the first ways to diagnose colon cancer. The fecal occult blood test is performed to look for blood in the stools, which is a warning sign. Many times the patient will perform this test by placing a bit of stool on a special strip and mailing it to a laboratory where the presence of blood will be detected or not. Colon cancer is a possibility when blood is present in the stool.

Another way to diagnose colon cancer is via an internal exam. The doctor inserts a gloved finger in the rectum to feel for abnormalities. If polyps or tumors are felt then colon cancer will be a consideration. Sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy are even more technical ways to determine if colon cancer is present or not. Yet another diagnosis tool is the barium enema.

Treatment of Colon Cancer

Surgery is the most popular and most effective treatment for colon cancer. There are two different types of colon surgery. The first is to insert a tube into the colon with a light and camera to look for the cancerous polyps. Once they are found they are cut and removed as long as it is the early stages cancer. When the cancer is more advanced a different type of surgery may be needed. The abdominal wall is cut, the cancer is removed, and the abdomen is closed again. Healthy tissue surrounding the cancer is also frequently removed. The lymph nodes are only removed if the colon cancer is believed to have spread. Sometimes surgery is followed by radiation or chemotherapy.

Prevention of Colon Cancer

There is no specific way to prevent colon cancer since it is not known what causes it. However, the best way to prevent it is to simply reduce the risk factors. That means having frequent checkups, living a healthy lifestyle, and always being on the lookout for colon cancer symptoms.

Individuals over the age of 50 should have yearly exams for colon cancer since it occurs 90% of the time in individuals past this age. A diet high in fiber and low in fat is also recommended to prevent colon cancer as is an exercise plan. When all of the risk factors are reduced as much as possible then preventing colon cancer is much more likely.

If you are worried about colon cancer or your risk for developing this deadly disease then talk to your physician. Doing this is the first step to finding colon cancer as well as preventing it. So, don’t wait to ask your doctor about colon cancer because the sooner it is detected the higher the survival rate and the less drastic the treatment.

External Resources

American Cancer Society

National Cancer Institute

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