Colon cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer, and one of the leading causes of cancer related mortalities in the Western world. However, due to certain social sensitivities and stigma, colon cancer can go unnoticed or ignored. Many people may simply dismiss symptoms as signs of other illnesses, as normal, or they may feel timid about talking to others about their bowel movements. However, it is important to catch colon cancer early, as then it has an excellent rate of recovery.
The symptoms of colon cancer depend on its stage and location. They can also be symptoms of other illnesses, so visiting a doctor is important to rule out other possibilities. Main symptoms include:
- Changes in bowel function like sudden constipation or diarrhea with seemingly no cause. Also, a feeling of sudden urgency to defecate, or that you cannot eliminate waste matter completely are symptoms.
- Changes in stool shape and color. The presence of blood or mucus can cause color changes and can be symptoms of colon cancer.
- Pain in the abdomen, swelling, or vomiting.
- Fatigue, iron deficiency, pale skin, weight loss.
Screening for colon cancer is especially important for those over the age of 50 and who have increased risk. Identifying colon cancer in the early stage greatly increases the chance of full recovery. The main methods include:
- Digital rectal exam
- Fecal occult blood test
- Double contrast barium enema
- Virtual colonoscopy
- Blood tests
- Genetic testing
- PET scans
- Stool DNA testing
Colon cancer is usually treated through surgery to remove the tumors. Sometimes chemotherapy is used after surgery.
There are certain factors that may play a role in the development of colon cancer, these include:
- Age – most colon cancers appear after the age of 50.
- Polyps – small growths in the colon, especially a kind called adenomatous polyps, can eventually develop into cancer.
- Previous cancers – people who have had other cancers are more likely to develop colon cancer.
- Genetics – the chances of developing colon cancer are increased with family history of the disease, especially in multiple relatives or closely related family members.
- Smoking – studies have shown that smokers are more likely to die from colon cancer than those who do not smoke.
- Diet – research suggests that a diet with too much red meat and lacking in fruit and vegetables can increase risk.
- Lack of exercise – people who are sedentary have a higher colon cancer risk.
- Viruses – certain viral infections have been linked to the development of colon cancer.
- Inflammatory bowel disease – conditions like colitis and Crohn’s disease seem to increase the likelihood of developing colon cancer.
- Environment – pollutions and toxins may have an effect.
- Hormones – some research suggests a link, especially with estrogen therapies.
- Alcohol – eheavy drinking may increase the odds of developing colon cancer.
The best way to prevent colon cancer is to eliminate the risk factors that are under your control from your life. This includes eating a healthier diet, not smoking, exercising, and limiting your alcohol consumption. Specific substances have shown promise in preventing colon cancer:
- Folic acid
- NSAIDs like aspirin or ibuprofen