COLON and rectal cancer is said to be the third deadliest cancer in the world. While it is commonest in people over the age of 50, the number of cases among younger adults has been increasing.
Colon or colorectal cancer starts in the large intestine or rectum. Both of these organs are in the lower portion of your digestive system. The rectum is at the end of the colon.
There may be no symptoms of colon cancer, especially in the early stages. Common symptoms include constipation, diarrhoea, changes in stool colour, changes in stool shape as well as blood in the stool.
Other symptoms include bleeding from the rectum, excessive gas, abdominal cramps and pain in the abdomen.
Colon cancer symptoms that are more noticeable in the late stages may include excessive fatigue, unexplained weakness, unintentional weight loss and changes in your stool that last longer than a month.
You may also feel like your bowels are not completely empty or you may start vomiting. If colorectal cancer spreads to other parts of your body, you may experience jaundice, swelling in the hands or feet, breathing difficulties, chronic headaches, blurry vision and bone fractures.
Types of colorectal cancer
There is more than one type of colorectal cancer. The differences have to do with the type of cells that turn cancerous as well as where they form.
The most common type of colorectal cancer starts from adenocarcinomas. Medical researchers say that adenocarcinomas make up most of colorectal cancer cases.
Adenocarcinomas form within the cells that make mucus in either the colon or rectum.
In other cases, colorectal cancers are caused by various types of tumours, such as lymphomas, which can form in lymph nodes or in the colon first, carcinoids and sarcomas, which form in soft tissues such as muscles in the colon.
Gastrointestinal stromal tumours can also cause colon cancer. These can start off as benign and then become cancerous. They usually form in the digestive tract, but rarely in the colon.
While the precise cause of colorectal cancer is unknown, a number of risk factors have been identified that alone or in combination increase the chances of it developing.
Some of these factors are unavoidable, such as a prior history of colon polyps, a history of bowel diseases in the family, a family history of colorectal cancer and certain genetic syndromes such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP).
However, there are other risk factors that are avoidable. These include being overweight or obese, smoking, heavy alcohol drinking and consuming a diet high in processed meats.
Early diagnosis of colorectal cancer gives you the best chance of successful treatment. If your doctor suspects you might have it, he or she will probably start by taking down your medical and family history, performing a physical examination by pressing your abdomen and perhaps conducting other tests before referring you for a colonoscopy to determine whether there are any lumps or polyps present.
Possible screening tests include an X-ray using a radioactive contrast solution that contains the chemical element barium.
A colonoscopy involves insertion into the rectum of a long tube with a small camera attached. This allows the doctor to see inside your colon and rectum to check for anything unusual.
During a colonoscopy, your doctor can remove tissue from abnormal areas. These tissue samples can then be sent to a laboratory for analysis.
Treatment of colon cancer
The type of treatment of colorectal cancer depends on a variety of factors, such as your overall health and the stage the cancer has reached.
In the earliest stages of colorectal cancer, it may be possible to remove cancerous polyps through surgery. If the polyp has not attached to the walls of the bowel, there is a good chance of having it all removed.
In cases were the cancer has spread into the bowel walls, your surgeon may need to remove a portion of the colon or rectum along with any lymph nodes that are close to it.
Chemotherapy can also be used, generally after surgery, to destroy any lingering cancerous cells.
Radiation can also be used. This is a powerful beam of energy, similar to that used in X-rays to target and destroy cancerous cells before and after surgery.
The survival rate for people with colorectal cancer is affected by the stage at which it is diagnosed. If caught early, the chances of survival are high.
The reason more cases of colorectal cancer are being seen in younger people is unknown, but may be as a result of unhealthy lifestyle choices.
Lifestyle choices that may contribute to colorectal cancer are avoidable. Adopting healthier lifestyle choices may help reduce your overall risk of developing this disease.
You can take steps now to reduce your risk by decreasing the amount of red meat you eat, avoiding processed meats, eating more plant-based foods, decreasing dietary fat, exercising daily and losing weight if you are obese or overweight.
Quitting smoking, reducing alcohol consumption, decreasing stress and managing pre-existing diabetes can help reduce the chances of colon cancer and of many other illnesses as well.
- The information in this article is provided as a public service by the Cimas iGo Wellness programme, which is designed to promote good health. It is provided for general information only and should not be construed as medical advice.
- Readers should consult their doctor or clinic on any matter related to their health or the treatment of any health problem.
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