Colon Cancer 101
What is colon cancer?
Colorectal cancer is the second deadliest cancer in the United States, partly because it often goes undiagnosed. Silently, polyps can develop in the colon or rectum and become malignant. For this reason, knowing and addressing your risk factors and undergoing the recommended screenings is crucial.
Why is colon cancer important?
Colon cancer is one of the leading forms of cancer in the country, which is why awareness, prevention and screening are life-saving causes. According to the National Cancer Institute, there are over 100,000 new cases of colon cancer found ever year, with almost 50,000 deaths in 2011. Some risk factors are avoidable, and regular screenings as you age will increase the likelihood that any potential cancer will be found early enough to treat.
How do I get screened?
There are two viable options for colon cancer screening:
- A colonoscopy every 10 years (now offered with reduced prep)
- An annual FIT test (fecal immunochemical test), which detects blood in the stool
It is recommended that screening begins at age 50.
It is possible for you to “self refer”, meaning that you do not need to have a primary care provider (doctor) to be screened.
The State of Nevada received a grant through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide screening to low-income residents at no cost. To find out more about this program, contact Access to Healthcare Network at 1-877-385-2345.
What are the risk factors for colon cancer?
The U.S. National Library of Medicine lists several risk factors for colon or rectal cancer, including:
- A family history of colorectal cancer
- African or Eastern European descent
- A diet high in processed or red meats
- A history of cancer, especially in the breasts
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Colorectal polyps
- Age older than 60 years
- A habit of excessive drinking
- Cigarette smoking
What are the symptoms of colon cancer?
You may notice some signs of colorectal cancer, but keep in mind that colon cancer often presents with no symptoms at all. Regular colonoscopy screenings after age 50 are vital for catching the disease early enough for effective treatment.
Signs might include:
- Tenderness or pain in the lower abdomen
- Change in bowel movement
- Bloody or narrow stool
- Unexplained weight loss
What are the stages of colon cancer?
The U.S. National Library of Medicine breaks down colon cancer into five distinct stages. The earliest stages have the highest recovery rates. Stage 0 begins with cancer cells only in the innermost layers of the colon. As the cancer progresses, it will spread through the muscle wall of the colon, to the lymph nodes, and to other organs.
What are the treatment options?
The most common treatment approaches will include surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy. Surgery is typically effective during the early stages, with radiation and chemotherapy being used during the later stages.