What is Colon Cancer?

Colon cancer or colorectal cancer is the uncontrolled growth of cancer cells originating within the colon tissue. This includes both the rectum and the colon. Not including skin cancers, this type of cancer has been the third most common in the U.S and the second leading death cause related to cancer.

Important Facts About Colon Cancer

  • Of all cases of colorectal cancers, one-third is seen in the rectum, while the remaining have been found in the colon.
  • Detecting colon cancer in its early stages increases the probability of treating the disease while decreasing the need for surgery.
  • Screening for this type of cancer has increased in the U.S., which may have contributed to a decrease in colon cancer cases.
  • The risks of colon cancer increases for people over 40. Screening should be done for these individuals. Regardless of the risk factors, roughly 80 percent of colon cancer patients are aged 40 and above.
  • Colon cancer risks are similar in both men and women.

Risk Factors for Colon Cancer

Usually, colon cancer starts from the adenomatous polyps-clusters of the abnormal cells found within the glands wrapping the interior colon wall. As the abnormal growth progresses over time, they degenerate and lead to adenocarcinomas. This condition generally runs in the family, which case may be termed as familial adenomatous polyposis.

Hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer is another colorectal cancer syndrome that runs in the family. Here, the cancer develops despite the absence of precursor polyps. Such condition is associated with a specific genetic abnormality, which could be determined with genetic screening.

Other factors that increase colon cancer risks include:

  • Obesity
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Crohn disease or ulcerative colitis
  • Ovarian, breast, or uterine cancer (past and present)
  • History of colorectal cancer in the family

For people whose first-degree relative has been diagnosed with colorectal cancer, the risk increases by roughly three times. This increases further per family member affected with the disease, particularly those diagnosed at an early age.

Tests for Identifying Colon Cancer

  1. Digital Rectal Exam. A DRE is where the physician a gloved finger inside the rectum to identify possible abnormalities. Around 10 percent of colon cancers are detected through this test.
  2. Fecal Occult Blood Test. The FOBT is where a stool sample is taken to check for blood. Tumors could bleed at any time. This test aims to identify if blood is present in the stool, which could determine whether the patient has colon cancer or another condition. While this test could be negative, further testing may be done in ruling out colon cancer.
  3. Flexible Sigmoidoscopy. A soft, fiberoptic scope is inserted inside the anus to determine if tumors are present in within the rectal walls and the colon’s sigmoid part. Almost all rectal and approximately half of the colon tumors are detected in this test.
  4. Colonoscopy. A more comprehensive version of the sigmoidoscopy, this procedure requires the patient to take medications for relaxation. A scope with a small camera is then inserted into the anus to view images inside the colon and identify signs of the disease, polyps, or inflammation. Polyps could be taken out in this procedure, and the physician could also take samples of suspicious parts for lab testing.

Treatment Options for Colorectal Cancer

Chemotherapy. This is a type of treatment involving the administration of certain medications to kill cancer cells. This option is made for people affected with advanced stages of the disease that may have already spread throughout various body parts.

Surgery. In this procedure, the section where the cancer is present is surgically removed. This serves as the initial treatment option for patients affected with the disease.

Radiation Therapy. This treatment option is where radiation is applied to get rid of cancer cell and prevent them from further developing. This may be given as preparation for surgery, usually for individuals with rectal cancer. Tumors may be shrunk in this process and significantly decrease the chances of cancer from spreading.