Colon Cancer: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatments

Colon Cancer affects millions of people around the world and it is fatal in many cases. A malignant tumour begins at the inner lining of the large intestine. In some cases, it can even begin in the rectum area and affect other regions. People having a family history of colon cancer should be very careful as their chances of getting colon cancer increases at a later stage with increasing age. The early stages may not show many symptoms and proper diagnosis is required to confirm the presence of tumours. In most cases, surgery can treat the problem effectively in the early stages and chemotherapy may help to avoid the tumours in the future.

Types of Colon Cancer

There are many types of Colon Cancer and the treatment for each one of them differs slightly. However, Adenocarcinomas accounts for the majority of the cases of colon cancer and the other types are not very common.

- Adenocarcinomas : This is the most common type of colon cancer and it affects the inner lining of the colon.

- Carcinoid Tumors : this begins in the hormone-producing cells and can spread to other regions. It starts in the intestine and can even affect other organs.

- Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors : this usually affects the gastrointestinal tract through the soft tissue sarcoma and it begins in the blood vessels. It rarely occurs in the colon but it can affect the connecting tissues of the colon.

- Lymphomas : This begins in the lymph nodes and it can affect the colon and other regions as it is a cancer of the immune system.

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Symptoms of Colon Cancer

- There are not many noticeable symptoms in the early stages and even when they occur, they are not specific to colon cancer. For this reason, you should immediately approach a doctor when such symptoms are visible and go for a thorough examination to determine the cause of the problem.

- The most common symptoms are associated with drastic changes in bowel habits and stool colour.

- You often notice that the stool gets dark in colour and also there will be a change in the consistency.

- In some cases, there may be blood in the stools and it can also lead to rectal bleeding.

- Anaemia is also a common symptom of colon cancer as the body loses energy quickly and it cannot process vitamins and minerals completely.

- Some people also experience constipation and this can also lead to other problems.

- It is common for people suffering from colon cancer to notice discomfort in the abdominal region combined with pain due to cramps.

- All these symptoms are present during the early stages of colon cancer and the later stages attract various other symptoms like loss of appetite and drastic weight loss.

- Some of them even experience nausea and vomiting during this stage.

- Difficulty in breathing combined with constant fatigue is another symptom of colon cancer.

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Causes of Colon Cancer

When the inner lining of the large intestine develops tumours that are cancerous, they eventually grow and spread to other regions thereby destroying the healthy cells in the body. There are many causes of colon cancer and some people have more tendency to develop them due to genetic factors.

- Polyps : The large intestine contains precancerous polyps in some cases that lead to colon cancer. The adenomas present in the intestine can become cancerous in some cases and create problems. While these polyps are not malignant all the time, they have a tendency to become malignant and this leads to colon cancer if they are not treated at the early stage.

- Genes : Some people inherit such conditions from family members and the genetic mutations put them at risk of developing colon cancer at a later stage. However, when it is diagnosed in the early stages, it can be easily avoided in the future. Along with that, there needs to be some trigger to make the cells malignant and only then will they develop colon cancer.

- Other health conditions : in some cases, people suffering from diabetes for a long time can develop such conditions. In other cases, the growth hormone disorders like acromegaly can also trigger colon cancer. If you are taking radiation therapy for treating some other cancer in the body, you should be careful about developing colon cancer. In rare cases, even ulcerative colitis can also lead to colon cancer in some patients.

- Diet and Lifestyle : Colon cancer is normally found in middle-aged patients and sedentary lifestyle coupled with smoking habits can lead to such condition. Your diet also plays a major role in the development of colon cancer as this is associated with the digestive tract. When you eat foods that contain very less quantity of fibre, it becomes difficult to digest the food and this leads to damage to the inner lining of the intestine. Other habits like drinking excessive alcohol and eating red meat can also contribute to colon cancer.

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Diagnosis of Colon Cancer

When it comes to diagnosis of colon cancer, you should not wait till you are fifty to begin the process. When you have a family history of colon cancer, you can even go for a diagnosis a few years earlier than fifty so that you will be able to rule out the chances or detect them in early stages.

- Colonoscopy : This is the popular method used to detect colon cancer and they use a long and flexible tube that has a video camera to monitor the colon region along with the rectum. Suitable samples are taken when anything suspicious is noticed inside the colon. This can also be used to remove polyps in early stages and prevent them from becoming cancerous at a later stage.

- Molecular testing : The samples removed in this manner are tested for cancerous cells and this will confirm the presence or absence of colon cancer in the body. It may take several days to begin treatment after the condition is detected as the treatment depends on the type and stage of colon cancer in the body.

- Blood test : While it is not possible to detect colon cancer directly with a blood test, it can aid in the detection as the carcinoembryonic antigen produced by colon cancer will be present in the blood samples. In this way, it becomes easy to detect the presence of colon cancer cells in the body.

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Prevention of Colon Cancer

The best way to prevent colon cancer is to maintain a healthy lifestyle and avoid excessive smoking and alcohol consumption. You should also watch out your weight as it affects obese people severely when compared to people who are of normal weight. It is also a good idea to reduce the consumption of red meat and saturated fat as they cannot be easily processed by the intestine and it leads to accumulation of fat cells in the lining of the intestine. Other than that, you will notice that regular physical activity will avoid various health issues and it can even keep you away from various cancers. Also, make sure to include lots of fruits and vegetables in your everyday diet to get good nutrition and this can boost your immune system and reduce the chances of developing colon cancer in the future.

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Treatment for Colon Cancer

The treatment for colon cancer depends on the stage of cancer and the overall health condition of the patient. In a normal situation, it involves surgery followed by chemotherapy and radiation treatment to remove cancer from the body. This can also give relief from painful symptoms.

- Colectomy : a part of the colon is removed in this surgery and even the surrounding area of the affected colon is removed in some cases. The lymph nodes in the surrounding region of the affected area are vulnerable to get affected in future and the doctors usually remove them as a precautionary measure. The abdomen wall will be inserted with a bag that collects waste. When the cancer is small, endoscopy will be enough to remove them and when they get large, laparoscopic surgery will be needed. In the case of advanced cancers, palliative surgery will be needed to reduce the symptoms and manage the pain and bleeding.

- Chemotherapy : This procedure is generally employed to cure various types of cancers. It involves the killing of cancerous cells along with healthy cells in the targeted area. The chemicals used in this treatment will kill all the cells including healthy ones but the healthy cells will be able to recover and the cancerous cells will die in the process. As the treatment comes with various side effects like hair loss, nausea and fatigue, it is administered in cycles depending on the overall condition of the patient.

- Radiation : In this method, gamma rays of very high capacity are used to kill cancerous cells in the body. The radiation therapy is very effective to reduce the size of a tumour and it can be used along with other treatments for colon cancer. Even this one has some side effects like skin burn, fatigue and loss of appetite and weight.

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Complications of Colon Cancer

- The major complication associated with colon cancer is bleeding and this can also be very painful for the patient.

- Other than that, the growth of cancer can obstruct the colon movement and this reduces the ability of the colon to process waste.

- In this way, the bowel movements get obstructed leading to painful complications at a later stage.

- General weakness is a common attribute of this condition and it affects almost every person suffering from colon cancer.

- If left untreated for a long time, these conditions can get worse and it will even become fatal in some cases.

- There are some complications associated with colon cancer even after surgery is performed and some patients develop a different type of cancer a few months later.

- When the cancer cells are able to move away to different regions inside the body, they can affect other parts and this can easily target the lungs and liver in most cases.

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Myths about Colon Cancer

Myth #1: Colon cancer is fatal :

This is completely false and it can be easily treated when it is detected in the early stages. When the disease has not spread to different regions of the body, it is very easy to get proper treatment and most patients recover within a few years after surgery and chemotherapy sessions.

Myth #2: Colon cancer is a genetic disease : it is not a genetic disease and you can get colon cancer even when there is no family history of such problems. For this reason, it is very important to get screened regularly so that you will be able to detect them in the early stages and get the suitable treatment.

Myth #3: All polyps are cancerous : this is not dangerous when it does not turn cancerous. However, the presence of polyps increases the chances of getting colon cancer at a later stage and you should immediately get proper treatment for this issue. With a simple colonoscopy procedure, the polyps can be treated effected to eliminate the chances of colon cancer.

Myth #4: Colon cancer affects only men : This is entirely false and it affects both men and women in the middle age. It is a good idea to get diagnosed once in a few years so that you can rule out the chances of getting cancer in near future.

These are some of the common myths about colon cancer and you must be aware of them so that you can avoid such problems in the future.

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When you carefully consider the symptoms of colon cancer, you will realize that they are not specific in nature and you should always make it a point to get screened even when you do not have visible symptoms. Remember that getting effective treatment in the early stages means that you will be able to lead a normal life in the future without any problems. Most people do not develop any complications after surgery and maintaining a healthy lifestyle will ensure that there will be no relapse of the disease. If you are above the age of fifty, always ensure that you go for periodic screening once in a few years even when you do not have a family history of colon cancer. This will ensure that your health will be in good condition and you can effectively handle the problem by detecting it in the early stages.

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Last updated on : 20-12-2018

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