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What is colon cancer?
The colon is the last part of the digestive system where the body extracts water and salt from solid waste. Colon cancer occurs when tumorous growths develop in the colon. The tumors begin as benign growths called polyps. Polyps are small clumps of cells that eventually can turn into colon tumors. Colon cancer is more common in older adults and is the second most common cancer found in both males and females combined.
It is important to receive a colonoscopy early in your life and then as directed by your gastroenterologist. To schedule a colonoscopy, contact your local GI Alliance office.
What are the symptoms and risk factors of colon cancer?
With the right care and attention, it is our hope that, should you experience the early signs of colon cancer, prompt treatment could benefit you with a more positive outcome. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms persistently, please make an appointment with a GI Alliance gastroenterologist promptly:
- Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool
- A sudden change in bowel movements, including constipation, diarrhea, or a change in the consistency of your stool
- Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas, or pain
- Any of these accompanied by weakness and fatigue
- A feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely
- Pain during bowel movements
- Continual urges to defecate
Some of the factors that could put a person at higher risk for colon cancer are:
- Age: Colon cancer is primarily diagnosed in people who are older than 50; however, the rates of colon cancer in younger people have been increasing.
- Descent: People of the African-American race have an increased risk of colon cancer compared to other races.
- Family history: If you or a family member has had colon cancer or colon polyps, you have a greater risk of colon cancer.
- Inflammatory intestinal conditions: Chronic diseases, including Crohn's disease and colitis, can increase your risk of colon cancer.
- “Typical western diet”: Colon cancer has been linked with a low fiber, high fat, and high-calorie diet.
Survival rates for colon cancer
Cancer survival rates are broken into categories and dependent on the extent to which it has spread upon diagnosis. Localized colon cancer is cancer that is strictly in the colon. Regional colon cancer is when cancer spreads to the surrounding tissues and organs, and distant is when cancer has spread to distant parts of the body.
- Localized colon cancer: 90% 5-year survival rate
- Regional colon cancer: 71% 5-year survival rate
- Distant colon cancer: 14% 5-year survival rate
If the cancer is found early and only manifests in a few cancerous polyps, then the polyps can be removed resulting in very high survival rates.
We recommend regular screening beginning at the age of 45 in order to find cancer early. If colon cancer runs in your family, then we suggest receiving a colonoscopy at a GI Alliance location near you as soon as you can.
What are the available treatments for colon cancer?
Treatment for colon cancer can vary depending on the stage of the cancer. Every case is unique, but the best thing you can do for colon cancer is to completely prevent it.
Colon cancer is a unique type of cancer because it is preventable. Colon cancer first manifests itself in the form of polyps. These polyps can be removed, which reduces your risk of dying of cancer by 90%. Your personal risk and prevention steps can be determined at a screening with your local GI Alliance gastroenterologist.
Stage 0 colon cancer treatment
Stage 0 colon cancer is when the colon cancer has not spread beyond the inner lining of the colon. If the growth is small enough, it can be easily removed with the use of a colonoscope during a colonoscopy.
Stage I colon cancer treatment
If the polyp is completely removed during a colonoscopy with no cancer cells at the edges, no further treatment may be needed. If the removed polyp does have cancerous cells at the edges, more surgery might be needed to clear the remaining cancerous tissue. For cancers not in a polyp, a partial colectomy may be necessary to remove the section of the colon and nearby lymph nodes that are cancerous.
Stage II colon cancer treatment
Usually, in stage 2, surgery is performed to remove the section of the colon or nearby lymph nodes containing cancer. Sometimes your physician will recommend adjuvant chemotherapy (chemo after surgery) as well.
Stage III colon cancer treatment
A partial colectomy followed by adjuvant chemotherapy is the standard treatment for this stage of colon cancer.
Stage IV colon cancer treatment
This stage of cancer typically means that cancer has spread to other tissues or organs. Surgery may be necessary to remove parts of the cancer found in the colon and other organs, along with chemotherapy. Chemotherapy at this stage is typically administered before and after surgery.
Colon Cancer FAQs
What causes colon cancer?
Though the precise cause of colon and rectal cancer is not well understood, the disease results when cells in the lining of the large intestine or rectum mutate and grow out of control, creating a growth or tumor. However, there are certain circumstances that may elevate the chance of developing the disease. These can involve lifestyle factors, like drinking alcohol or using tobacco, lack of exercise, and poor dietary habits, along with a familial or genetic predisposition.
How is colon cancer diagnosed?
Colorectal cancer is commonly diagnosed during a screening for the disease. A colonoscopy is the most common, precise, and comprehensive testing option for detecting colon and rectal cancer. Other tests, such as flexible sigmoidoscopy, virtual colonoscopy, double-contrast barium enema, and fecal tests, could also be used during a colorectal cancer screening. Your GI Alliance gastrointestinal specialist will advise you on the best diagnosis and screening option for your individual needs.
How quickly does colorectal cancer develop?
Colon and rectal cancer is slow-growing in many instances. It commonly begins as a noncancerous polyp or growth in the colon or rectal area that becomes cancerous over time. Experiencing symptoms when polyps are present is uncommon, making routine colorectal cancer screenings critical to diagnosing it as soon as possible.
Is colon cancer preventable?
Cancer of the colon or rectum can often be prevented with periodic colorectal cancer exams. Since the majority of colon cancers start as premalignant growths (polyps), having screenings as recommended by your medical provider can help decrease your risk of the disease. Our board-certified gastroenterologists can offer further information on how to decrease your colorectal cancer risk during your consultation.
Hope for Colon Cancer Patients at GI Alliance
If you or a loved one suspects or has been diagnosed with colon cancer, take comfort in expert help being close at hand. GI Alliance is America’s leading physician-led network of gastroenterologists, and every one of our board-certified physicians aims to put the comfort and security of our patients first. To learn more about colon cancer and how it can be detected and prevented, contact a GI Alliance office in your community.
Colon Cancer Videos
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