Colon Cancer

The Ins and Outs of Colon Cancer

Colon cancer strikes roughly 140,000 Americans annually, making it the second most common cancer in the United States. Over 90% of people who get colon cancer are over 40 years of age. After the age of 40, the risk of developing colon cancer doubles every 10 years. Although age is one high risk factor of developing the disease, there are others. Individuals with a family history of colon cancer or polyps, history of ulcerative colitis or cancers of other organs are more likely to develop colon cancer.

Most colon cancers begin with polyps, which are benign. These polyps are considered pre-malignant growths, which can later increase in size and become colon cancer. Although hemorrhoids may produce symptoms similar to cancer or colon polyps, hemorrhoids do not lead to colon cancer.

The most usual symptoms of colon cancer include changes in bowel habits and rectal bleeding. Although symptomatic of other diseases, diarrhea and constipation may be present with colorectal cancer. When weight loss and abdominal pain become symptoms of colon cancer, the cancer is often extensive. Oftentimes, however, polyps and early colon cancers do not produce symptoms.

Since colon cancer or polyps may not produce any symptoms, it’s important to have colorectal cancer screening once you hit the age of 40 or sooner if your physician recommends it. While a colonoscopy is the standard for colon cancer pre-screening, your doctor may recommend a digital rectal exam, a chemical test to check for blood in the stool or a sigmoidoscopy.

One of the best ways to reduce your risk of colon cancer is through proper preventive screening. If benign polyps are discovered during your outpatient colonoscopy procedure, then the physician will remove them. There’s also some evidence that may suggest that a diet that is comprised of high fiber and low fat may help to prevent colon cancer.

Surgery is performed in most cases of colorectal cancer. Chemotherapy and radiation are sometimes recommended in addition to surgery. If colorectal cancer is detected and treated in its early stages, then approximately 80% to 90% of patients return to normal health. On the other hand, the cure rate reduces to 50% or lower, if colorectal cancer is diagnosed in its later stages. A very small percentage of patients — less than 5% — require a colostomy, which is a surgical construction of an artificial opening leading from the colon.