Understanding Colon Cancer
Colon cancer awareness screening, prevention, and treatment are vital components of healthcare. Colon cancer begins when healthy cells in the colon start to change and grow out of control, forming a mass called a tumor. A tumor can be cancerous or benign. A cancerous tumor is malignant, meaning it can grow and spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumor means the tumor can grow but will not spread.
Colon cancer usually develops from precancerous polyps in the colon. Polyps are abnormal growths that aren’t cancerous yet but could become cancerous over time. Your first line of defense when it comes to colon cancer awareness: is screening. Screening tests can detect precancerous polyps, allowing for their removal before they develop into cancer.
Colon cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates there will be over 153,000 new cases of colon cancer and almost 53,000 deaths from colon cancer in 2023.
Colon Cancer Risk Factors
There are several risk factors that can increase a person’s chance of developing colon cancer:
- Age – The risk increases after age 45. More than 90% of cases occur in people who are 50 years old or older.
- Family history of colorectal cancer or polyps – Having a parent, sibling, or child with colorectal cancer increases your risk.
- Personal history of colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer
- Inherited syndromes – Gene mutations passed through families that increase risk, like Lynch syndrome
- Racial and ethnic background – African Americans have a higher risk of colon cancer than other races
- Type 2 diabetes
- Physical inactivity
- Heavy alcohol use
- Eating a lot of red meat or processed meat
- Diet – A diet low in fiber and high in fat may increase the risk while consuming more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains may help reduce it.
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) – A history of IBD, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, increases the risk.
- Radiation therapy – Previous radiation therapy for cancers in the abdominal or pelvic area may increase the risk.
To reduce the risk of colon cancer, consider engaging in regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, and limiting alcohol consumption.
Colon Cancer Symptoms
Early colon cancer often has no symptoms. As the cancer grows, symptoms may include:
- Change in bowel habits – Diarrhea, constipation, or a change in the consistency of the stool that lasts longer than four weeks
- Narrow stool – Stools that are consistently thinner than usual, which may indicate a blockage or narrowing of the colon
- Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool – Bright red or dark blood in the stool, which can be a sign of bleeding in the colon or rectum
- Persistent abdominal discomfort – Cramps, gas, pain, or a feeling of fullness or bloating that doesn’t go away
- Weakness or fatigue – Feeling tired or weak, which may be due to anemia caused by blood loss from the cancer
- Unexplained weight loss – Losing weight without trying, which can be a sign of many types of cancer, including colon cancer
- Anemia – A low red blood cell count, which can cause fatigue, shortness of breath, and pale skin
- Feeling that the bowel doesn’t empty completely – A persistent sensation of needing to have a bowel movement, even after doing so
It’s essential to grasp that conditions other than colon cancer, like hemorrhoids, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), can also cause these symptoms. If you experience any of these symptoms, consult a healthcare professional for a proper evaluation and diagnosis. Early detection and treatment of colon cancer can significantly improve the chances of a successful outcome.
Screening for Colon Cancer
Regular screening for colon cancer can help find precancerous polyps before they turn into cancer. Screening can also detect cancer early when it’s most treatable.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening beginning at age 45 for average-risk adults. Those with a family history or other risk factors should start screening earlier.
Some common screening tests include:
- Colonoscopy – A colonoscopy examines the entire colon using a long flexible tube with a camera. This test allows for the detection and removal of polyps and abnormal tissue during the procedure.
- CT colonography – Also known as virtual colonoscopy, this test uses CT scans to examine the colon. It’s less invasive than a traditional colonoscopy and doesn’t require sedation. However, if we discover any abnormalities, you will require a follow-up colonoscopy for additional assessment and potential polyp removal.
- Fecal occult blood test (FOBT) – This test detects hidden blood in stool samples. It’s a non-invasive test that you can conduct at home, but you should perform it annually for effective screening. A positive result requires a follow-up colonoscopy.
- Stool DNA test – This test examines stool samples for genetic changes that could indicate cancer. You can also perform this non-invasive test at home. A positive result requires a follow-up colonoscopy.
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy – This test examines the lower part of the colon with a flexible tube. It’s less invasive than a colonoscopy and doesn’t require sedation. However, it only examines the lower part of the colon, so it may miss abnormalities in the upper part. A positive result requires a follow-up colonoscopy.
Each screening test has its advantages and limitations. It’s essential to discuss with your healthcare provider which test is most suitable for you based on your risk factors, medical history, and personal preferences.
Preventing Colon Cancer
Making lifestyle changes can help lower your risk of developing colon cancer. Here are some strategies to consider:
- Eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains – Consuming a diet rich in these foods can provide essential nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber that may help protect against colon cancer.
- Limit red and processed meats – Studies have shown that a high intake of red and processed meats can increase the risk of colon cancer. Opt for lean protein sources like poultry, fish, and plant-based proteins instead.
- Exercise regularly – Engaging in regular physical activity can help maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of colon cancer.
- Maintain a healthy weight – Researchers have linked obesity to an increased risk of colon cancer. Maintaining a healthy weight through a balanced diet and regular exercise can help lower your risk.
- Don’t smoke – Smoking has been associated with an increased risk of various cancers, including colon cancer. Quitting can significantly reduce your risk.
- Limit alcohol – Excessive alcohol intake has been linked to an increased risk of colon cancer. It’s recommended to limit alcohol consumption to no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
- Get screened beginning at age 45 – Regular colon cancer screening can help detect precancerous polyps and early-stage cancer, increasing the chances of successful treatment.
By adopting these preventive measures, you can take steps to lower your risk of developing colon cancer and promote overall health. Always consult with your healthcare provider before making significant changes to your lifestyle or starting new medications.
Treatment Options for Colon Cancer
Treatment options for colon cancer depend on the stage of the cancer and can include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and targeted drug therapy. Here is an expanded overview of these treatment options:
- Surgery: The primary treatment for colon cancer is the removal of the tumor and nearby lymph nodes. Different types of surgery include local excision, colectomy, hemicolectomy, partial colectomy, or segmental resection, depending on the size and location of the cancer.
- Chemotherapy: This treatment uses drugs to kill cancer cells and is often given after surgery (adjuvant treatment). Doctors can also administer chemotherapy before surgery (neoadjuvant treatment) to shrink the tumor and facilitate its removal.
- Radiation: High-energy beams are used to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy is more commonly used for rectal cancer than colon cancer. It can be used during surgery (intraoperative radiation therapy or IORT), along with chemotherapy to help control cancer if a person isn’t healthy enough for surgery.
- Targeted drug therapy: This treatment uses drugs that attack specific cancer cells and is typically used for advanced colon cancer. Targeted therapies can be more effective and cause fewer side effects than traditional chemotherapy.
It’s essential to discuss the risks and benefits of each treatment option with your doctor, as well as the potential side effects. Early detection and treatment provide the best outcomes for colon cancer patients.
Colon Cancer Awareness: Screening, Prevention, and Treatment: When to Talk to Your Doctor
Colon cancer awareness screening, prevention, and treatment are critical aspects of healthcare. See your doctor if you have any persistent colon cancer symptoms or are due for screening. Those with a family history or other colon cancer risk factors should talk to their doctor about screening before age 45. Catching colon cancer early makes treatment more effective.
Don’t let colorectal health concerns go unaddressed. Allied Digestive Health is here to provide the highest standards of care for your well-being. With a strong commitment to patient care, our experts specialize in colon cancer screening, and the treatment of Celiac Disease, GERD, and IBD.
Take action today! Contact Middlesex Monmouth Gastroenterology with any questions about colorectal health and let our compassionate team guide you towards a healthier future.