Colon cancer is cancer of the large intestine (the colon). An About.com article says it’s the third most common cancer in men and women in the United States. Mayo Clinic reports most colon cancers begin as small, noncancerous clumps of cells called adenomatous polyps. Over time some of these polyps become colon cancers.
Mayo Clinic says factors that may increase colon cancer risk include older age; race (African-Americans have a greater risk); a family or personal history of colorectal cancer or polyps; inflammatory intestinal conditions; low-fiber, high-fat diet; a sedentary lifestyle; diabetes; obesity; smoking; heavy use of alcohol and radiation therapy directed at the abdomen to treat previous cancers.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) adds certain genetic syndromes also increase the risk of developing colon cancer. The most common are familial adenomatous polyposis and hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer, also known as Lynch syndrome.
Many people with colon cancer experience no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. Mayo Clinic lists colon cancer symptoms as a change in bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation; a change in the consistency of stool; rectal bleeding or blood in the stool; persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain; a feeling the bowel won’t empty completely; weakness or fatigue; and unexplained weight loss.
Colon cancer treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and targeted therapies.
Surgical procedures are the most common. Cancer.gov says these include local excision (removing the cancer by putting a tube through the rectum into the colon and cutting out the cancer); radiofrequency ablation (uses electrodes to kill cancer cells); and cryosurgery (freezes and destroys abnormal tissue). Or a partial colectomy which removes the cancerous part of the colon along some normal tissue on the sides.
Mayo Clinic says chemotherapy can also be used to destroy cancer cells after surgery, to control tumor growth or to relieve symptoms of colon cancer. And radiation therapy uses powerful energy sources to kill any cancer cells that might remain after surgery, to shrink large tumors before surgery so they can be more easily removed, or to relieve colon cancer symptoms.
Cancer.gov says targeted therapy uses antibodies that identify substances on cancer cells or normal substances that may help cancer cells grow. The antibodies attach to the substances and kill the cancer cells, block their growth, or keep them from spreading.
NIH advises that with proper screening like a colonoscopy, colon cancer can be detected early, when it’s most curable. Almost all men and women age 50 and older should have colon cancer screening.
Colon Cancer. MayoClinic.com by Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Web 31 Aug 2011.
Colon Cancer. Cancer.gov by the National Cancer Institute. Web 31 Aug 2011.
Colon Cancer. PubMed Health by National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine. Web 31 Aug 31 2011.
Colon Cancer Basics: What is Colon Cancer? About.com by the New York Times Company. Web 31 Aug 2011.
Reviewed September 2, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith