Colon cancer affects the lower gastrointestinal tract which is the large intestine. It can also involve the rectum. It is the third leading cancer among men and women and even the third leading cause of cancer-related mortality. Early signs of colon cancer usually occur in late adult life. Below are early signs to look for
- Rectal bleeding is one of the early and dire signs that must not be ignored. The blood can either be bright red or darker maroon. It can either be regular or occasional. Other conditions like hemorrhoids, an anal tear can also cause bleeding from the rectum, so it is best to consult a physician to rule out any malignancy,
- Unexplained weight. You might experience losing weight within a short period. This is because your body is not able to absorb the essential nutrients and vitamins that are needed to function correctly. Unexplained weight loss is always a pointer to cancer.
- A persistent feeling or urge to empty one’s bowel despite passing no stool, a condition known as tenesmus.
- You might experience a headache, palpitations, inability to concentrate, excessive fatigue. These symptoms are related to anemia caused by iron deficiency. Iron deficiency is due to prolonged bleeding and the failure of the body to absorb dietary iron from the intestine.
- Abdominal pain. Pain is always an indicator of a disease process. The pain can either be sharp or dull and can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting and abdominal distension
How to Prevent Colon Cancer
Some people will most certainly develop colorectal cancer at one point in their life. This is because certain genetic factors and disease put them at risk. Such conditions include Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, Lynch syndrome, However, regular screening and surveillance might help reduce the chances of developing colon cancer.
Medical screening involves a series of laboratory tests and procedures which includes a fecal occult blood test, rectal exam, stool DNA test, a flexible sigmoidoscopy or a colonoscopy every 5 years. The frequency of the screening depends on the age of the patient and associated risk factors. Colonoscopyopy is always preferred because of its ability to view the entire colon and treat precancerous changes like polyps. If a polyp is found, it is removed and sent to a histopathologist to conduct a biopsy and determine if it is cancerous.
Diet and exercise are highly recommended for prevention of colon cancer. It is advised by the National Cancer Institute that a diet low in fat, rich in fiber including at least five portions of fruits and vegetables every day. To limit the content of fat in your diet, it is advisable to modify your eating and cooking habits. Incorporate more diet rich in fiber, consume more vegetables, fruits, whole wheat bread, and cereals. Processed red meats should be avoided, at the same time incorporating healthy fats, such as those containing unsaturated fatty acids such as omega-3s.
Lifestyle modification such as cessation of alcohol and smoke should be encouraged among patient who is at risk.
Research has shown that low dose aspirin in an older patient can help in reducing the risk of developing colon cancer
Signs and Symptoms of Colon Cancer
Patient with colon cancer always presents with bleeding from the rectum. This is because of the cancer cell have eroded surrounding tissues and blood vessels. Other symptoms include unexplained weight loss within a short period of time, persistent abdominal pain, constipation or diarrhea, change in stool consistency, a recurrent or persistent urge to empty the bowel.
These signs and symptoms bear similarities with other gastrointestinal tract diseases. They include ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, hemorrhoids, irritable bowel syndrome, infection. If you experience any of these symptoms, do not hesitate to consult your physician to rule out any malignancy.
Can you be Cured of Colon Cancer?
Yes, cancer can be cured but, this depends on the extent to which the cancer cells have spread to others tissues or organs of the body.
For cancer that is still well localized within the inner lining of the colon, surgery is the mainstay of treatment. This is done by slicing out the polyps or excising cancer via a colonoscope. Surgery is also done for cancers that have advanced beyond the coverings of the colon, and maybe into surrounding tissues but have not yet invaded the surrounding lymph nodes. A procedure known as partial colectomy is done remove that section of colon along with adjoining lymph nodes. Your doctor might recommend adjuvant chemotherapy for any of the following reasons;
- If the cancer cells have spread to the nearby blood or lymphatic cells
- The cancer cells have caused perforation through the colon
- If he was unable to remove at least twelve of the neighboring lymph nodes.
Chemotherapies have serious side effects ranging from hair loss, anemia, constipation, nausea, and vomiting, mild skin changes, fatigue, diarrhea. Most of this effects go away after completing the treatment.
In advanced stage cancers that spread to distant organs and tissues in the body, most often organs like the liver, lungs, the brain and including the distant lymph node, surgery is unlikely to cure these cancers. At this stage, your doctor might have the options of either curing cancer or alleviate the symptoms. Chemotherapy or targeted therapy is the primary modality used at this stage. Examples of drugs and regimens used include;
- 5-FU and leucovorin
- 5-FU, leucovorin, and irinotecan
- 5-FU, leucovorin, and oxaliplatin
For colon cancers that are well advanced, radiation therapy can be used in alleviating symptoms and improving general wellbeing of the patient.
Over the decades, the incidence of colon cancer and mortality due to colon cancer have declined. This can be ascribed to improvement in prompt diagnosis and treatment. Patient with early-stage cancer has a better prognosis with 90-95% survival rate. However, as the disease progresses, the rate drops.
6 colon cancer warning signs never to ignore. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.today.com/health/colon-cancer-warning-signs-never-ignore-t108646
Cancer, C. (2018). Low-Dose Aspirin and Longer Colon Cancer Survival. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/colorectal-cancer/news/20160602/low-dose-aspirin-tied-to-longer-colon-cancer-survival#1
Signs and Symptoms of Colon Cancer. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/signs-and-symptoms-of-colon-cancer.html