Contributed by – Dr Dhrity Vats
A colon or large intestine is a muscular tube which is almost 4 feet long. It is the end part of the digestive tract. It is that part where the body absorbs maximum water and salt (electrolytes) from the solid wastes. It also stores and controls the removal of faecal material. The waste then moves through the rectum and passes out through the anus.
Colon cancer occurs generally in older adults. It begins as a polyp which is a cluster of cells. It can lead to cancerous transition cells if left untreated surgically or with medicines. These cells can also metastasize to different organs of the body like bones, lungs and liver. The irony of colon cancer is that it does not show any major signs and symptoms unless it has grown into cancer from polyps. Deaths from colon cancer rank third after lung and prostate cancer for men and third after lung and breast cancer for women. Colon cancer is sometimes called colorectal cancer. It is a term that combines colon cancer and rectal cancer; cancer which begins in the rectum.
We shall read through a deeper detail of colon cancer types, symptoms, causes, tests and treatment.
Types of colon cancer
The colon has 4 distinct parts – the ascending, transverse, descending and sigmoid. It ends into the rectum which further defecates from the anus. Colon cancer can develop in any part of the colon. Colorectal cancer includes the rectum along with the colon. The most common type of cells in colon cancer are Adenocarcinoma. The other types of colon cancer are rare but include:
- Carcinoid Tumors
- Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors
- Hereditary Colon Cancer
Causes of Colon Cancer
What causes colon cancer is not very clear by its study and research. Although there are multiple risk factors which may develop to Colon cancer. They might include:
- History of colon cancer in the family
- Primary cancer in the body of any other part like uterus, throat, lung or blood
- Ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s Disease
- Adenomatous polyps in the colon
- Any type of growth in the colorectal passage
- Genetic abnormalities
Symptoms of Colon Cancer
The initial transition of the growth of cancerous cells would not show any major signs and symptoms. It’s only when the polyp grows big enough and advances to cancerous cells that the body will show any signs. The signs are quite unique and different from any other bowel syndrome. They can be:
- A continuous change in bowel habits either going to frequently or very rarely
- Change in the consistency of the stools, either too loose or too tight like roundels or ribbon-like stools
- Unexplained loss of weight and appetite
- Continuous nausea or vomiting
- Abdominal distention: feeling like stomach bloating out without evident weight gain
- Pain during bowel movements
- Rectal bleeding in the stool, not to confuse with haemorrhoids
- Weakness can be attributed to anaemia
- Rectal pain
Screening of colon cancer
If you suffer from any of the above-mentioned symptoms too frequently and are above the age of 50 then you should get yourself screened by a gastroenterologist. Moreover, asking your family history and red flags the doctor would be able to suggest you with the tests one should undertake to rule out colon cancer.
Tests for Colon Cancer
No blood screening shall give a hint of cancer in the colon. But a blood test can show other vitals like kidney and liver functions. Also, no ultrasound can detect any growth in the intestinal area.
A Colonoscopy is a test which generally can give a view of inside the colon and rectum. A small ½ inch tubular flexible scope which is inserted from the anal opening of one’s body. The camera attached to it shows any growth or blockage inside the colon. The doctor may take a sample of polyps if there, for further examination of the kind of growth. One can feel drowsy as the procedure is done under medication. Generally, colonoscopy is not painful and takes about 30 – 60 minutes.
Another examination which your practitioner can do is a rectal checkup. Here, the doctor may insert a gloved finger into your rectum through your anus. This is done to check if the bleeding is coming from the rectal area.
Treatment of Colon cancer
The doctor will need to find out the stage of growth if colon cancer has been detected. By finding out the stage it makes it easier to determine the type of treatment.
There are stage 0 to stage 4 of the colon cancer where
Stage 0 – where cells are in the initial stage and have not grown outside the inner layer of the colon
Stage 1 – where cells have grown into the next layer of tissue, but haven’t reached the lymph nodes or other organs
Stage 2– where cells have reached the outer layers of the colon, but not spread beyond the colon
Stage 3– here cells have grown through outer layers of the colon and have reached one to three lymph nodes
Stage 4– cells have reached other tissues beyond the wall of the colon and distant parts of the body
The treatment can be surgical and chemotherapy.
Colectomy is the surgical process where the part of the colon where there is growth is generally surgically removed. Mostly cauterization is done if growth is only polyps. Endoscopy is generally helpful to remove localized cancerous cells. These procedures are generally helpful in the initial stages of colon cancer.
Chemotherapy treatment is administered in the advanced stages of colon cancer. Chemotherapy administers chemicals that interfere with the cell division process by damaging proteins or DNA in order to damage and kill cancer cells. This reduces the speed of growth of the carcinogenic cells. Chemotherapy has several side effects. Although it is the most widely accepted treatment where chances of cancer spreading to other organs are high. There is a lot of healing time given between two sessions of chemotherapy to help an individual regain the lost strength.
Prevention of Colon Cancer
There are no specific causes of having colon cancer. However, having a healthy gut is a way to prevent oneself from colon cancer. Individuals with the troubled gastrointestinal tract should follow the following guidelines:
- Eat a large variety of fibrous diet which should include vegetables, fruits and whole grains
- Avoid foods which a lot of spices and oil
- Have a controlled amount of liquor
- Stop smoking
- Exercise regularly
- Have fixed regime of toilet
- Defecate without stress
- Keep yourself hydrated
- Maintain a good BMI
Most importantly talk to a health practitioner if you suffer from any gastric issue. The earlier you get yourself screened the easier and less painful is the treatment.
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