Colon Cancer

Ian Livengood

Overview

Colon cancer is the cancer of the large intestine. Cancer of the colon and the rectum are often linked, so colon cancer can also be referred to as colorectal cancer. There are four stages to colon cancer, each being ranked by severity. Stage one is the beginning stage, where the cancer has broken the inner lining of the large intestine. At this point, the cancer has begun to grow and is no longer in polyps. At stage two, the cancer has grown out of the colon but has not spread. By stage three and four, the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and other vital organs such as the liver or the lungs.

Symptoms

In the early stages of colon cancer most symptoms go unnoticed, making it important to get a colonoscopy done. However, in the later stages some might experience:


  • Changes in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, and stool consistency
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Blood in stool
  • Persistent abdominal discomfort (i.e. pain, cramps, gas, etc.)
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss

Experiencing any or all of these symptoms on a consistent basis could indicate you have colon cancer, so see your doctor immediately.

Causes and Risk Factors

While there may not be a direct cause for colon cancer, certain lifestyle choices can determine if you have a higher risk of developing it. Diet is a large part of staying healthy. Those who eat more fat and less fiber, or a Western diet, are at much greater risk for colon cancer than those who do the opposite. Along with diet, inactivity increases the risk of colorectal cancer. Finally, heredity puts you at great risk for developing colon cancer early on in life. If you have a family history of the disease, it is important to be screened sooner in life than the average age suggestion states.

Prevention and Diagnosis

In the case of colon cancer, prevention and diagnosis are done through the same process; a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy is a test conducted where doctors use a tube attached to a video camera to view the inside of you intestine and rectum, checking to see if any polyps, or collection of cancerous cells, have formed. If found, doctors can perform surgery that same day to remove them. Doctors recommend that the average human be screened for colon cancer by the age of 50, and continue to get them done every five years or so.

Treatment

The three main ways to treat colorectal cancer are:
  • Surgery

Surgery can be as minor as a polyp removal, performed during the early stages of cancer, or as serious as a colectomy. A colectomy is conducted when the cancer becomes invasive, and it involves removing the infected part of the colon and reconnecting the healthy tissue.

  • Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is commonly used alongside surgery to target and reduce swelling of the infected area.

  • Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to eradicate cancerous cells. It is usually reserved until the cancer has spread, and chemo can help reduce the risk of the cancer reocurring.

Who It Affects

The risk of developing it colon cancer increase substantially if you are African American, elderly, or have a family history of colorectal cancer. However, colon cancer can affect anyone, even the healthiest of us. In conclusion, just be smart, lead a healthy lifestyle, and know of the dangers of colon cancer.