- What is colorectal cancer?
- What are the symptoms of colon cancer?
- What treatments are available for colon cancer?
- Who can get colon cancer?
- What is the number one way to prevent colon cancer?
- What is a colonoscopy?
Colon cancer evolves from a colon polyp, which is a small abnormal growth of cells on the lining of the colon. Most of the time, these are harmless (benign), but some can evolve into cancer.
Colon cancer has four primary stages:
- Stage A is when the cancer is still located within the colon.
- Stage B occurs when cancer has spread into the lining of the bowel.
- Stage C indicates the cancer has broken through the bowel lining.
- Stage D is when cancer has spread throughout the body.
To help understand the stages of colon cancer, let’s first discuss what colon cancer is and symptoms that may accompany the disease.
What is Colorectal Cancer?
The American Cancer Society defines colorectal cancer as cancer that starts in the colon or rectum. The colon and rectum are part of the large intestine, which is made up primarily of a muscular tube about five feet long designed for absorbing nutrients and eliminating waste.
The majority of colorectal cancers begin with the growth of a polyp on the inner lining of the colon or rectum. Not all polyps become cancerous, but in some cases, these cancers can spread throughout the body.
What Are the Symptoms of Colon Cancer?
The symptoms and signs of colorectal cancer vary by patient. Many of the symptoms can be caused by other disorders, so it’s important to see you doctor right away if any of these changes occur:
- Changes in bowel habits
- Blood, which could be bright red or dark, in the stool
- Stools that look thinner than normal
- Abdominal discomfort including pains, fullness, or cramping
- Unexplained weight loss
- Constant fatigue
- Iron-deficiency anemia
What Treatments Are Available for Colon Cancer?
The treatment for colon cancer varies by stage as well as other factors. Stage A colon cancer is 100% treatable since the disease hasn’t spread beyond the inner lining of the colon. Usually, a surgical option is selected to remove the polyp. This process simply excises the polyp with a snip from a colonoscope, in many cases. For some patients, a more intensive process may be needed beyond the local excision. By the time colon cancer has spread to Stage D, the chances of treating the disease successfully are much lower and the survival rate drops significantly.
Later stage colon cancer may be treatable by surgical intervention, radiation, or chemotherapy. The type of intervention depends upon the patient, their condition, prior treatments, and how far the disease has progressed.
Who Can Get Colon Cancer?
According to Cancer.Net, colorectal cancer is the third most common form of cancer in the United States, affecting both men and women. Each year, approximately 147,950 people will be diagnosed with colon cancer, and more than one-third will die. While the disease affects primarily older adults aged 55 and over, there is a rising incidence of colorectal cancer in younger Americans. It is a potentially serious illness, but when caught early, it is very treatable and survivable in the majority of patients.
What is the Number One Way to Prevent Colon Cancer?
Your diet does have an impact on your susceptibility to colon cancer. Geisinger suggests that a diet low in processed foods and red meats will help. Diets high in fruits, vegetables, and fiber have been shown to help the body fight illness. Even drinking more water throughout the day can help lower the odds that you’ll experience late-stage colon cancer during your lifetime. But even your diet won’t completely eliminate your risk.
The number one way to prevent colon cancer is to be proactive in finding it before it becomes a problem. Prevention is the best way to stop this disease before it worsens and becomes life-threatening. The problem with colon cancer is that it is often doesn’t show up as a symptom until it has progressed into the later stage of the illness. A colonoscopy test is the best way to find polyps in the colon that can progress into a problem later on.
Dr. Nick Sharma, Board Certified Gastroenterologist, and founder of Gastroenterology Associates of S.W. Florida, P.A., says, “We like to be proactive in finding and treating colon cancer. That’s why we recommend a colonoscopy procedure for anyone over the age of 50 and now, in some cases, age 40, depending on their family history.”
What is a Colonoscopy?
Modern colonoscopies require light sedation and for the majority of patients, there is no pain from the procedure. During the procedure, a long flexible tube called the colonoscope is inserted into the rectum. There is a tiny video camera at the tip of the tube that allows the doctor to look at the inside of your colon. The colonoscope can insert air into the colon which allows the doctor to see inside the organ. If a polyp is found, the same tool can make a small incision to remove it.
There are very few risks with this procedure, which can take 30 to 60-minutes for the majority of patients.
Before the colonoscopy procedure, patients must prepare the colon for the exam. You will have some diet and fluid restrictions and we will prescribe a laxative to ensure your colon is completely clean for the procedure.
Colorectal cancer is one of the few cancers that can be prevented through screening. Since colon cancer starts as a polyp that’s been allowed to grow, a colonoscopy is the best way to find and eliminate the polyp before it causes an issue.
If you have any symptoms of colon cancer, are over 50, or have a family history of the disease, please contact our office.