Colon Cancer

colon cancerColon cancer is cancer that develops in the large intestine. Cancer occurs when healthy cells become altered, growing and dividing in a way that keeps the body from functioning normally. Most cases of colon cancer begin as small, benign clusters of cells, or polyps, on the lining of the colon. Certain types of these polyps, called adenomas, can become malignant. It is safest to have such polyps removed at an early stage when they have not yet become cancerous.

Risk Factors for Colon Cancer

There are several risk factors for colon cancer, some of which are under the patient's control. These risk factors include:

  • People age 50 and older
  • Smoking
  • Lack of exercise
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Eating red or processed meats
  • Obesity
  • Certain hereditary syndromes
  • Family history of colon cancer
  • Patient history of inflammatory bowel disease
  • Patient history of adenomas
  • Patient history of other cancer
  • Type 2 diabetes

Symptoms of Colon Cancer

While patients with colon cancer are often asymptomatic, as the disease progresses, they may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • A change in bowel habits or a change in consistency of the stool
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool
  • Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain
  • A feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Nausea or vomiting

Diagnosis of Colon Cancer

After performing a thorough physical examination and taking a full patient and family history, the doctor may administer other diagnostic tests. These may include:

  • Blood tests, including a CBC, and tests for liver enzymes and tumor markers
  • Colonoscopy
  • Sigmoidoscopy
  • Ultrasound
  • MRI
  • CT scans

As part of a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy, a biopsy may be taken.

Treatment of Colon Cancer

Depending on the stage of progression of the colon cancer, treatment may include one or more of the following:

  • Surgical removal of diseased and immediately adjacent tissue
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Targeted or biological therapy

Prevention of Colon Cancer

There are many steps that may be taken to lower the risk of developing colon cancer. Individuals may decrease their chances of developing this disease by eating a healthy low-fat diet that is high in fiber and antioxidants, drinking alcohol only in moderation, refraining from smoking, exercising, and maintaining a healthy weight. For individuals at high risk for developing colon cancer, medications and surgery may be recommended. Everyone over 50 years of age, individuals of African-American descent over 45 years of age, and individuals known to be at high risk should undergo regular colonoscopies, both to screen for cancer and to remove suspicious colorectal polyps at the earliest stage possible.

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