Colon cancer (colorectal cancer) is the third most common form of cancer that is diagnosed in the world. Every year, more than 97,000 cases of colon cancer are reported in the United States alone. This works out to be roughly 4.49% of the male population, and 4.15% of the female population.
Colon cancer is treatable, but it is still the third leading cause of cancer related deaths. Like all forms of cancer, spotting it early is important for survival. There are a number of risk factors that can be understood and avoided.
Colon Cancer begins in the colon and sometimes the rectum. The cancer develops in the cells and can lead to the development of abnormal growths known as polyps. polyps are not all cancerous, but cancer has a higher chance of forming when polyps are not removed. This is one of the reasons why early detection is so important.
Education is key to preventing irreversible and terminal development of colon cancer. The following information will introduce you to the symptoms of this form of cancer, and the problems that can occur if treatment is not provided. You will also learn about the risk factors in detail, some of which you can reduce through simple lifestyle changes. Finally, you’ll discover how colon cancer is diagnosed, and how it is treated depending on the stage of advancement.
Whether you’re concerned for your own health or someone close to you, learning about this complex disease will be a critical step in finding the right treatment.
Typical Symptoms of Colon Cancer
Before learning about the symptoms that come with colon cancer, it’s important to understand that they don’t always indicate the presence of cancer. In most cases, symptoms are related to other issues.
Use these as a guide, and understand that only clinical screening can confirm the presence of colorectal cancer. There are cases where the early stages of cancer have begun, but with no typical symptoms present.
• Sudden weight loss can be an indicator of colon cancer.
• Cancer can deplete energy and make you feel weak or fatigue.
• Ongoing cramping and general pain in the abdominal region can be a symptom of colorectal cancer. Pain may range from mild to severe.
• Dark stools indicate the presence of blood, which can be a sign of colon cancer.
• Changes in bowel habits are often displayed in patients who have developed colon cancer. The changes will be noticeable over a period of a few days, and may come and go. Changes can include constipation, stool narrowing, or diarrhea.
• Growths in the colon can lead to the constant feeling of needing to perform a bowel movement.
• Rectal bleeding is one of the most noteworthy symptoms and signs of colon cancer.
If any of these symptoms are caused by cancer, then it’s an indicator that the disease has already established itself and possibly spread. This is the reason why regular pre-screening is important. With early screening, treatment can save your life or the life of somebody you care about.
Complications Associated with Colon Cancer
Continued bleeding is one of the major signs of colon cancer. Blood loss can lead to weakness and fatigue, making life more difficult.
A large tumor can cause bowel obstruction which can lead to infection and toxicity. Even minor obstructions can cause pain and will result in abdominal bloating. Mild pain in the bowel should not be ignored, as this can indicate that an obstruction already exists.
An even more serious problem is the risk of the cancer spreading to other organs in the body. If symptoms are ignored and colorectal cancer is left undetected, there’s potential for large tumors to form. Cell damage can continue throughout the body, leading to cancer development in other organs. Cancer could spread up through the intestines to the stomach, liver, pancreas, and other internal organs. Progressive, highly developed forms of cancer are untreatable. The more organs that are impacted, the less chance there is for successful treatment. Sooner or later, the spread of cancer will result in major organ failure and death.
Yet again, finding out early is key, and no symptom should go ignored. Always talk to a doctor when you have concerns about colon cancer symptoms or any other abnormal symptoms.
The Leading Risk Factors for Colorectal Cancer
Cancer is complex and even though medical science shows the disease in more depth than ever before, we are still learning things every day. Understanding the risk factors will help you to realize why early screening is so critical. If you find any of these risk factors relevant to you, then it’s time to talk to your doctor about screening options.
1. Excessive Alcohol Consumption
Regular drinking, binge drinking, and alcoholism can all increase the chances of having colon cancer. Studies have shown a direct link between drinking alcohol and the risk of developing colon cancer. Reducing alcohol intake to moderate levels can reduce the chances of colorectal cancer, as well as breast cancer, oral cancer, and liver cancer.
Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to a plethora of physical and mental health problems, so moderation or complete abstinence (in case of alcoholism or problem drinking) is always recommended.
2. Ethnicity Risk Factors
Different races have been shown to have higher chances of developing colon cancer and other forms of cancer. Asian groups in general are less likely to develop colorectal cancer, although it should be noted that the Japanese population has an abnormally high rate of stomach cancer and a slightly higher rate of colon cancer when compared to the United States.
African-Americans have a higher rate of reported colon cancer when compared to other groups, as well as a higher chance of death. The link between race and cancer is not completely understood, but, higher statistical risk is still important. If you are part of a group where cancer rates are higher, it’s recommended to have early screening performed.
People with diabetes and pre-diabetes can be at higher risk than otherwise healthy people. Research suggests that people with insulin resistance could be 40% more likely to develop colorectal cancer. Ongoing management of diabetes may reduce the risk, but early screening still remains the best recommendation if you find yourself in this group.
A family history of colon cancer means a higher risk for every member of that family. Immediate relatives (parents, children, and siblings) can have significantly higher chances of developing the disease. 25% of colon cancer cases are linked to genetics, with specific genes found to be associated with colon risk and development of cancer.
Being overweight or obese will increase the chances of developing colon cancer when compared to people of normal weight. The higher the BMI, the more chance there is of developing this type of cancer. Weight management is essential not only for reducing cancer risk, but for stopping other health risks that are associated with heart disease, inflammation, hypertension, sleep apnea, and organ diseases.
Smoking is most often associated with lung, throat, and mouth cancer. What a number of people don’t realize is that smoking can increase the risk of all forms of cancer, including colorectal cancer. Smoking damages cells in the body and carcinogens can be delivered directly to the colon through smoking. Every cigarette can cause damage, so complete abstinence is necessary to reduce the risk as much as possible.
Diet choices can increase the risk of colon cancer, so it’s important to eat healthier foods and reduce the intake of animal fats and processed meat products. Food that is high in cholesterol and fat will increase the chances of developing colon cancer. Food of this type has the potential to cause abnormal cell changes, which can lead to the polyp growths that are often a precursor to colon cancer. Choosing natural foods including fruits and vegetables, and increasing fiber intake, could potentially reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer.
The risk of cancer increases with age, and this is the leading risk factor for colorectal cancer. The risk increases significantly after the age of 45, and this is when more than 81% of cases develop. Diagnosis of colon cancer is also high in the 65+ age group. If you are over the age of 40 and have not been screened for colon cancer, then it’s time to make an appointment with your physician.
Methods of Screening for Colon Cancer
One of the simplest screening methods looks for blood in the stool, rather than cancer itself. The test is known as High-sensitivity fecal occult blood testing (FOBT). This is an early detection test that cannot confirm the presence of cancer alone, however, it’s an effective method of determining whether polyps are present, without requiring invasive testing.
A more advanced method of fecal testing is available, known as FIT-DNA. This test looks for specific DNA markers in stool that are known to be associated with colon cancer. This test can also be useful for detecting pre-cancer conditions that need to be treated. More advanced than FOBT, this method can provide direct positive confirmation of colorectal cancer. Even so, positive results are followed up by colonoscopy to confirm the presence of abnormal growth in the colon.
The most common and arguably the best methods of detection are sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy. Sigmoidoscopy is an advanced form of colonoscopy where tissue samples can be collected along with the examination. Abnormal growths can be removed through this method and later tested for cancer. This type of testing is recommended in older patients. For people over the age of 55, it can dramatically decrease the risk of further development of polyps or cancer.
Standard colonoscopy uses a medical tool that is inserted through the anus, providing a technician or physician with a view of the colon. Tissue samples can also be taken through this method.
Treatment Options When Cancer is Detected
Treatment depends on what advanced stage the cancer is. Stages advance from 0 to IV.
• Stage 0 means that cancer is only present on the inner wall of the colon. Surgery can be done to remove the minor tumors, and sometimes parts of the colon will be removed for larger tumors.
• When the cancer grows more layers into the colon, the disease is said to be in Stage I. Although tumors are typically larger and more advanced, they have not spread outside of the colon. Treatment for this stage is to take out the affected area. Stage I colon cancer, may require Sections of the colon to be removed.
• Stage II is when cancer has spread to nearby tissue. The affected area of the colon is removed, and lymph nodes are also removed to prevent spread of the cancer throughout the body. Chemotherapy can be used after surgery to ensure that cancer does not return or spread.
• When lymph nodes contain cancer, the disease is said to be in Stage III. Surgery removes all affected sections of the colon and the affected lymph nodes, and chemotherapy is used in almost every Stage III case. Radiation therapy may be used instead of surgery, depending on the patient’s health.
• Stage IV is the most advanced form of colorectal cancer. This shows the spread from the colon, into other tissue, and to organs. Surgery is not always a viable option at this stage. Specialists review Stage IV cases to determine the best method of treatment. Surgery will be followed through with chemotherapy and radiation treatment, if reduction or removal is possible.
Other treatment alternatives available (including specific medications and advanced surgeries) will depend on the unique circumstances and stage of the cancer.
Early Detection and Treatment is Always the Best Option
Colon cancer, like all cancers, can be highly aggressive in how it spreads. Screening over the age of 40 is the best way to prevent advanced stages of cancer. If a number of high risk factors are present, then earlier screening may be recommended.
A physician’s advice is always best, even for those that simply want to know more about the symptoms and screening options. With education and treatment, the risk of having colorectal cancer can be reduced.