Cancer of the large intestine, colon cancer usually starts with benign polyps that eventually turn into malignant tumors. This condition is characterized by symptoms such as changes or inconsistency in bowel movements, abdominal pain, gas, weakness, rectal bleeding, and unexplained weight loss. These symptoms are mostly nonexistent in the first few stages. Therefore, doctors recommend regular screening post the age of 50 so that they can identify any polyps or tumors in the early stages. However, inherited syndromes, unhealthy lifestyles, inflammatory bowel diseases, and African-American ethnicity magnifies the risk of this disease. So, people with such risk factors should consider getting screened in their early 40s.
For screening colon cancer, doctors primarily make use of a procedure known as colonoscopy where a flexible, thin tube attached with a camera is inserted inside the colon and rectum. The doctor observes these areas for any anomalies. If they suspect any issues, a surgical tool via the tube will be passed to get rid of any benign polyps or for taking tissue samples for further analysis. On the other hand, blood tests can’t conclusively confirm this condition, however, they are done to gain insight into one’s overall health.
The treatment for colon cancer depends on the stage of the condition. The following are the 4 stages of this disease:
- Stage I: This is the early stage of colon cancer where the tumor has grown through the mucosa (superficial lining) but hasn’t spread beyond the colon or rectum wall.
- Stage II: In this stage, cancer has progressed through the colon or rectum wall but hasn’t invaded the surrounding lymph nodes.]
- Stage III: Cancer, in this stage, has spread to the nearby lymph nodes but has not impacted the other parts of the body.
- Stage IV: This is the last stage of colon cancer where it has metastasized to the other areas of the body, such as the liver or lungs.
If colon cancer is detected in the early stages, it is curable using minimally-invasive procedures, including colonoscopy, endoscopic mucosal resection, and laparoscopic surgery. On the other hand, if cancer has grown through the colon, the doctors will have to opt for invasive surgeries such as partial colectomy (removing the affected part of the colon), colostomy (creating an opening in the abdomen for waste elimination), and lymph node removal.
In advanced cases, where cancer has metastasized, along with surgery, the surgeon may recommend other procedures to keep the disease from invading other vital organs. Chemotherapy might be used to destroy the malignant cells post colon surgery if cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and other parts of the body. Likewise, other alternatives including radiation therapy, targeted drug therapy, immunotherapy, and proton beam therapy can be used to kill the cancer cells based on their location and response.
Dealing with colon cancer can be both physically as well as mentally draining. Therefore, patients should join support groups, spend quality time with family and friends, or invest in stressbusting activities to improve their emotional wellbeing and strength.