Colon cancer refers to a form of cancer that affects the main part of the large intestine, commonly called the colon. Sometimes, colon cancer is grouped together with cancer that affects the other part of the large intestine, the rectum, and referred to as colorectal cancer.
Colon cancer is a fairly common cancer. It affects both men and women, and the risk for developing colon cancer goes up in everyone after age 50. Other risk factors for developing colon cancer include a family history of cancer or colon cancer specifically, and a history of developing colorectal polyps, or growths. People with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis also have a higher colon cancer risk, as do those who smoke or eat diets high in fat and low in fiber, folate and calcium.
Screening and Prevention
The best way to detect colon cancer early and prevent the development of life-threatening cancer is to be screened for the disease. Screening is generally recommended for people 50 and older, though those at higher risk may need it earlier in life. Various tests can screen for colon cancer, including a fecal occult blood test and a digital rectal exam. However, colonoscopy and sigmoidoscopy are screening methods that can not only detect cancer at an early stage but also find and remove any precancerous polyps.
Symptoms of Colon Cancer
Colon cancer can be difficult to detect because the symptoms often overlap with other common medical conditions. When symptoms do occur, they’re usually related to the digestive tract. Common symptoms include diarrhea, constipation, bloody stools, narrower stools than usual or the feeling that your bowels are not completely empty. Colon cancer can also show itself with such symptoms as nausea, vomiting, fatigue, unexplained weight loss or gas and painful cramps.
The primary method for treating colon cancer is surgery to remove the tumor. In some cases, this procedure can be done in a minimally invasive way with a long robotic arm that enters the body to remove the tumor. Other times, open surgery is required.
Often, additional treatments are needed to kill cancer cells at the site of the tumor or in surrounding tissues. These treatments may be in the form of radiation therapy, chemotherapy or biological therapy
SOURCES: American Cancer Society; U.S. National Cancer Institute.
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