March is Colon Cancer Awareness month. Why the need for “awareness”? Because colon cancer is a serious disease that has few warning signs at early, easily treated stages, and requires procedures for identification. Colon cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death. But what is colon cancer. Obviously, it involves the colon, in particular the large intestine and the rectum. Cancer occurs when the DNA of cells develop errors and replicate abnormally to form a tumor, invade healthy areas, and even spread to other parts of the body, known as metastasis.
The symptoms of colon cancer occur when the cancer is more advanced. The early stages of the disease have no symptoms, when the cancer size is small. When symptoms do occur, the cancer is larger and causes: bleeding in the stool, diarrhea or constipation, abdominal pain such as cramps, unexplained weight loss, and fatigue, feeling of incomplete emptying of your bowl, anemia, unexplained loss of appetite, nausea or vomiting. The symptoms are a result of the tumor oozing blood into the colon and creating a blockage in the colon of stool passage, called bowel obstruction.
Colon cancer causes are genetic, environmental, from other diseases, and have other risk factors that increase the chances of developing it. Inherited abnormalities to DNA include Lynch syndrome and familial adenomatous polyposis. Western diets which are high in fat and low in fiber have been associated with increased risk. Diseases of the colon, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease have a higher incidence of colon cancer. Other risk factors include obesity, diabetes, older age (older than age 50), smoking, previous radiation therapy to the abdomen for other reasons, heavy alcohol use, family history of colon cancer, and personal history of colonic polyps.
Screening for colon cancer is extremely important as the symptoms usually occur in only late stages of the disease.
The earlier the colon cancer is detected, the easier it is to treat and more likely it is to be treated successfully. Colon cancer found in the early stages has a survival rate of 90%. Screening consists of colonoscopy, CT colonography, fecal occult blood test, flexible sigmoidoscopy and stool DNA testing. The type of screening test used depends on your risk factors, family history, and your preference of sensitivity of the test. The most sensitive of the tests is colonoscopy which allows visualization of the entire colon and rectum, identification of polyps and abnormal tissue, and sampling of any abnormal tissues for further evaluation. Screening usually starts at age 50 and colonoscopy is the preferred screening test in most patients. It is repeated every 10 years if the test is negative. If you have risk factors, then you may need to have screening tests at an earlier age and have it performed more frequently.
Treatment of colon cancer depends on the stage at which is detected. Treatment consists surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation or the combination of them depending on the cancer size, location, and spread.
If you have the symptoms described for longer than 2 weeks, then an evaluation by your physician or at Urgent Specialists is necessary to give you the proper access to care and treatment. Also, if you’re over 50 ask your physician or a provider at Urgent Specialists about getting screened for colon cancer.