Colorectal cancer (widely known by the name ‘Colon cancer’) is a type of tumor that mainly affects the large intestine, comprising rectum and colon. The wall of the intestine mainly comprises of five layers: serosa, sub serosa, sub mucosa and mucosa. Majority of all the colorectal cancers are mainly adenocarcinomas, which affects the specialized cells of the mucous lining that produce mucous. Adenocarcinomas initiates as an unusual outgrowth, known as a polyp. However, not all polyps are cancerous but they indeed possess the potential to turn cancerous.
Generally, colon cancer falls under benign tumor and it is very much curable, if detected in early stages. However, in later stages, it may possess the potential of being life threatening. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the world and can strike anyone, irrespective of gender.
Factors that triggers colon cancer
Technically, any particular reason that provokes the onset of Colon cancer is unknown. Though, the following listed factors are believed to have a fair share in the cause of colon cancer.
Needless to say, the factor that triggers the onset of colon cancer can be widely associated with excessive weight gain (obesity). Heavy intake of alcohol, low intake of fiber, junky diet and inadequate physical activities; all these may contribute to the onset of Colon cancer.
In the United States, Colon cancer is the second most common disease that causes death. And shockingly, Afro-Americans are at a higher risk of developing Colon cancer as compared to others.
Inflammatory Bowel Diseases like Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis or any other disease that cause long-term inflammation in colon increases the risk of colon cancer.
Non-polyposis colorectal cancer (also known as Lynch Syndrome) and Familial Adenomatous polyps (also known as FAP) are two types of colon cancer caused by faulty genes. These polyps have the potential to become cancerous.
Though colon cancer can strike any age group; it is more prominent among the aged.
Personal and family history
The risk factor of colon cancer also depends upon your past medical records. Women who had uterine, breast or ovarian cancers are at higher risks of colon cancer. Also, a family pedigree of colorectal cancer increases the chances of a person developing this cancer, mainly due to the environmental stress and shared genetic material.
Symptoms Of Colon Cancer
Colon cancer mainly occurs in the lower part of your gut. Basically, there are no specific symptoms during the onset of colon cancer. Most of the people stay unaware of the fact that they suffer from colon cancer, as they don’t get themselves screened. And when the disease spreads across the colon, the symptoms start to show up.
If at all symptoms occur, then look out for these:
- Diarrhea that involves black stools.
- Frequent stomachache and flatulence issues.
- Presence of blood in your stool. Presence of blood traces in the stool is quite often mistaken with presence of hemorrhoids. Hence, it is advised to get it screened to ensure what it is the cause of it.
- Improper bowel movement leading to severe constipation.
- Frequent vomiting and abdominal distension.
- Chronic Fatigue, pain, blockage, cramps and sensitivity in the lower abdomen.
- Also colon cancer makes you lose appetite, tired and undergo weight loss.
Screening/ Detection of Colon Cancer
Colon cancer mainly comprises of five stages:
- Zeroth Stage (0): When the cancer forms on the outer layer of the gut.
- First Stage (I): When the cancer forms on the inner layers of the colon.
- Second stage (II): When the cancer spreads throughout the wall of the colon.
- Third Stage (III): When the cancer spreads to lymph nodes.
- Fourth Stage (IV): When the cancer spreads to the other organs. This phenomenon is called metastasis. At this stage, cancer is quite tough to cure.
Regular and frequent screening is one of the best ways to keep colon cancer at bay. Doing this, will also ensure any detection of tumors or polyps that is smaller and easier to cure. If you are older than fifty years, then it is recommended to consult a gastroenterologist regarding the tests and treatment that is best for you. People with a family history of colon cancer or any sort of bowel disorders, need to be cautious and screened as earlier as possible.
Various medical tests are suggested to determine whether a person is suffering from colon cancer or not.
Generally, the doctor presses the abdominal area in order to check for any kind of lumps in the stricken area. After that the stool is sent for lab testing to check for the traces of blood and provide results regarding colon cancer or other rectal disorders.
Stool DNA test
An extensive test called stool DNA test checks for certain types of gene defects that are found in colon cancer. Some doctors also suggest examining extensive liver and blood profile before concluding that a patient is suffering from colon cancer.
After these basic tests are done and the results turn out to be positive, then, a detailed test is done in order to be sure of colon cancer. The test is called colonoscopy. A colonoscopy aids the gastroenterologist to analyze the entire intestine and detect any kind of polyps and cancer. It is carried out in a systematic way. A light and flexible tube with a camera fitted at one of its end, is inserted into the intestine. The camera analyses and captures the entire length of the colon. If any kind of lumps and polyps are present, it will be detected and removed.
The patient is asked to undergo bowel prep before taking the colonoscopy. The patient is made to drink medication that causes acute diarrhea. This will help to clean the intestines in order to get better results of the test. The patient is barred from ingesting any kind of solid food. It is advised to have Jell-O or chicken broth, the night before the test. The colonoscopy might sound complicated; hence, the patient is administered with sedatives in order to feel sleepy. This test needs to be done every ten years for the people with family history of colon cancer.
There are other types of tests that help in the screening of colon cancer and polyps.
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy is very similar to colonoscopy but it only examines a part of colon and rectum. This test may not involve any type of sedation. This test must be carried out every five years.
- Virtual colonography (also known as Computed Tomography colonoscopy) is a detailed scan of the rectum and colon to aid doctors look for cancer. The patient has to undergo bowel preparation by getting his/her colon cleaned. No sedation is required. Virtual colonography must be conducted every five years.
- Fecal Immunochemical Test (also known as FIT) and Guaiac-based Fecal Occult Blood Test (also known as gFOBT) are the tests, which are used to detect blood traces in the stool that has the potential to be the sign of polyps or cancer. If this test turns out to be positive, then, it is advised to follow with a colonoscopy. This test is done mainly to detect colon cancer.
- Double-contrast barium enema (DCBE) is a kind of an x-ray test. It comprises of injecting barium into the rectum. After that, air is pumped in, in order to spread the liquid throughout the rectum. X-ray scans are then taken. This test needs the patient to go through bowel preparation and no sedation is required. If any kind of polyp or cancer is detected, then colonoscopy is much needed. This test needs to be done every five years.
- And most important of all, do not self diagnose yourself. Talk to your physician or gastroenterologist regarding your screening.
Treatment of Colon Cancer
The treatment of the colon cancer depends on various factors, such as the severity of the cancer and also its location. Most available treatments for the colon cancers are Colonectomy (surgical removal of the polyp or cancer), Radiation therapy(use of radiation to kill cancer tissues) and Chemotherapy (use of medication to terminate cancerous cells) . Colon cancer is not deadly, if it is detected and treated as early as possible. The recovery period depends upon the immunity and the age of the patient. If the cancer does not reoccur five years after the treatment, then it is most likely that the patient is cured. But it is always safe to get the screening done at regular intervals.
Prevention of Colon Cancer
Colon cancer can be kept at bay to an extent, by following healthy lifestyle and a good diet. These are some of the tips that will help in the prevention of colon cancer.
- Fish oils, cur cumin, aloe Vera, ginger and garlic can switch off the production of cancer cells as they contain anti-oxidants. Also, Vitamin D provides a very strong protection against its influence. Hence, these should be included in your diet.
- Studies have shown that salt is a major precursor of colon cancer. Hence, cutting down your salt intake will be beneficial.
- Including probiotic bacterial culture in your diet will make your gut stronger and healthier.