What You Need to Know About Colon Cancer
Colon cancer, also known as colorectal cancer or bowel cancer, is a malignant tumor that develops in the colon or rectum, both parts of the large intestine. It is the third most common cancer and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. However, with early detection and treatment, it is highly curable.
There is no single cause of colon cancer, but several factors can increase the risk of developing it. These include:
- Age: Most colon cancers occur in people aged 50 and older.
- Family history: A family history of colon cancer or polyps in close relatives increases the risk.
- Inflammatory bowel disease: People with ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease have a higher risk.
- Genetic mutations: Certain inherited gene mutations, such as familial adenomatous polyposis and Lynch syndrome, increase the risk.
- Lifestyle factors: Obesity, physical inactivity, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and a diet high in red and processed meats can contribute to colon cancer.
In its early stages, colon cancer may not cause any noticeable symptoms. As the disease progresses, symptoms may include:
- Changes in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool
- Blood in the stool or rectal bleeding
- Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas, or pain
- A feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
- Weakness or fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to consult a doctor.
Colon cancer diagnosis usually includes:
- Physical examination: The doctor checks for any signs and symptoms of colon cancer.
- Fecal occult blood test: A test to detect hidden blood in the stool.
- Colonoscopy: A procedure that allows the doctor to view the entire colon and remove any polyps or abnormal growths for further examination.
- Imaging tests: Tests such as CT scans and MRIs may be used to provide a detailed view of the colon and other nearby organs.
- Blood tests: Tests to check for certain markers associated with colon cancer.
Treatment for colon cancer depends on the stage and location of the cancer, as well as the patient's overall health. Treatment options include:
- Surgery: The main treatment for early-stage colon cancer is surgery to remove the tumor and a section of the surrounding healthy tissue.
- Chemotherapy: Drugs used to kill cancer cells or stop them from growing.
- Radiation therapy: High-energy X-rays or other types of radiation used to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing.
- Targeted therapy: Targeted drugs work by attacking specific abnormalities within cancer cells, making them less likely to grow and spread.
- Immunotherapy: Treatment using the body's immune system to fight cancer cells.
While it is impossible to prevent colon cancer entirely, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk:
- Maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly.
- Eat a well-balanced diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Avoid excessive alcohol consumption and quit smoking.
- Undergo regular screenings, especially if you have a family history or other risk factors.
- American Cancer Society. (2021). Colorectal Cancer Facts & Figures 2020-2022.
- National Cancer Institute. (2021). Colon and Rectum Cancer Screening (PDQ): Health Professional Version.
- Mayo Clinic. (2019). Colon Cancer.
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