During a lifetime, 1 out of 23 men and 1 out of 25 women develop colon cancer, according to American Cancer Society (ACS). Colorectal cancer is a malignant tumor that begins from the inner wall of the large intestine or rectum. Since colorectal cancer does not produce any signs or symptoms in its early stages therefore, regular screening plays a very vital part. If the disease begins to spread, it can induce blood in the stool, can bring changes in bowel patterns (such as constipation or diarrhea), abdominal pain, weight loss or fatigue. Tumors that produce symptoms are typically larger and advanced-stage cancers.
Signs and Symptoms
There are several methods to diagnose this cancer and its spread:
- Fecal Testing– A test used to detect hidden blood in the stool. There are 2 main kinds of fecal testing’s.
- Guaiac-Based Fecal Occult Blood Test (gFOBT)
- Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT)
- Colonoscopy- A long, flexible tube with a camera on one end is inserted into the rectum to examine the inner area of the colon. The patient might need to intake a special diet for 24-48 hours prior to the procedure. The colon is to be cleansed with strong laxatives in a process known as bowel prep.
If polyps are found in the colon, a surgeon will prefer to remove them and refer them for biopsy. In the biopsy, the pathologist will examine them and look for cancerous or precancerous cells.
However, a full colonoscopy might not be necessary if a sigmoidoscopy doesn’t disclose polyps or if they are hidden in smaller areas. Flexible sigmoidoscopy is a procedure where doctors examine a smaller portion of the colorectal area. This method requires less preparation.
- Double Contrast Barium Ennema– Liquid called barium is used in this X-ray to gain clearer images of the colon than a standard X-ray. Fasting for several hours is mandatory before undergoing a barium X-ray. Liquid barium is to be injected into the colon via the rectum. This will be followed with a brief pumping of air to smooth over the barium layer to get the most accurate results. The barium pops up in white color on the X-ray and tumors or polyps will appear in dark outlines.
Selection of the treatment depends upon the condition of the patient, including the location of the cancer, its stages and the other health concerns. Usually treatment of colon cancer includes surgery to remove the cancer.
Colectomy is the surgery which involves cutting the part of the colon that contains the cancer with some of the surrounding area. For instance, commonly the surgeons remove the nearby lymph nodes to lessen the risk of spreading. Later, the surgeon will either reattach the healthy portion of the colon or build a stoma,which removes the need for the lower part of the colon.
- Endoscopy: Small, localized cancers are removed with the help of a tool. A thin, flexible tube with a light and camera attached will be inserted and that will also have an attachment for removing cancerous tissue.
- Laparoscopic Surgery: Several small incisions are made in the abdomen, which might be an option to remove larger polyps.
- Palliative Surgery: Symptoms are relieved in this treatment, in cases of untreatable or advanced cancers. To manage pain, bleeding and other symptoms, the surgeon makes an attempt to relieve blockage of the colon.
Medications are given to the patient to interfere with the cell division process. They disrupt the proteins or DNA to damage and eradicate cancer cells. This treatment aims at the rapidly dividing cancerous cells, as well as healthy cells. It is mostly recommended to the patient, when the cancer has spread. The treatment takes place in cycles, so the body has adequate time to heal between the doses. The side effects of chemotherapy might include nausea, vomiting, fatigue or hair loss.
Electromagnetic radiation, commonly known as gamma rays, is used to kill cancer cells. The doctor might use external radiation therapy, that expels these rays from a machine outside the body. The doctor may implant radioactive materials near the site of cancer in a form of a seed. Few metals, like radium, eject gamma rays. In colon cancer, doctors tend not to administer radiation treatments until the later stages. This treatment is used if the early stage rectal cancer has penetrated the wall of the rectum or has spread to nearby lymph nodes.
Side effects of this treatment might include:
- Mild skin changes which might look similar to sunburn or sun tan.
- Appetite loss or weight loss.