Colon Cancer is the third most common malignancy worldwide, as well as in the Philippines according to the Department of Health (DOH). Two-thirds of colorectal cancer are located somewhere in the colon. This type of cancer is a leading cause of cancer death, although it is curable when detected and treated early.
Colon cancer is cancer of the large intestine (colon), the lower part of the digestive system. Rectal cancer is cancer of the last 15 centimeters of the colon. Together they’re often referred to as colorectal cancers.
Most cases of the colon cancer begin as small, noncancerous (benign) clumps of cells called adenomatous polyps. Over time some of these polyps become colon cancers. Polyps may be small and produce few, if any, symptoms. Regular screening tests can help prevent colon cancer by identifying polyps before they become cancerous.
Signs and Symptoms
Many cases of colon cancer have no symptoms. The following symptoms, however, may indicate colon cancer:
- Recent changes in bowel habits, such as diarrhea or constipation
- Blood in stool
- Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain
- Abdominal pain with bowel movement
- A feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely
- Unexplained anemia
- Weakness of fatigue
- Weight loss with no known reason
- Narrow or thin stools
With proper screening, colon cancer can be detected before the development of symptoms, when it is most curable.
Here are factors that may increase your chances to acquire colon cancer:
- Age. About 90 percent of people diagnosed with colon cancer are older than 50. Colon cancer can occur in younger people, but it occurs much less frequently.
- Personal history of colorectal cancer or polyps. If you’ve already had colon cancer or adenomatous polyps, you have greater risk of colon cancer in the future.
- Inflammatory bowel disease which, fortunately, are not common in the Philippines according to the DOH.
- Family history of colon cancer and colon polyps.
- Diet. Colon cancer and rectal cancer may be associated with a diet low in fiber and high in fat, calories, red meat and processed foods.
- A sedentary lifestyle
Colon cancer is best when detected early, when there are still no symptoms. This is achieved through screening tests such as colonoscopy, fecal occult blood with flexible sigmoidoscopy, barium enema and CT virtual colonoscopy. There are various options for colorectal cancer screening.
On the other hand, if you are experiencing the typical symptoms of colon cancer or polyps, a colonoscopy would be the most appropriate test for you. If a polyp is found, it can be completely removed and sent to the laboratory to check for early malignancy. Removal of a benign adenomatous polyp prevents its progression to cancer. However, if tumor is found instead under colonoscopy, a biopsy can be done quickly and safely to determine if it is malignant.
The main treatment for curing colon cancer is surgery. This entails removing the segment of colon involved by the cancer, as well as the lymph nodes draining via the mesentery. If the cancer is small and early, minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery can be done, with smaller incisions, less pain, and faster recovery.
In cases of late stage colon cancer, where the malignancy has spread to the lymph nodes and/or organs such as the liver and lungs, chemotherapy is usually given either after the surgery, or alone if surgery is not considered for cure anymore. In some cases of Stage 4 colon cancer, cure is still possible with the use of surgery for both the colon and the other involved organ (such as the liver or lungs), as well as with chemotherapy.
Note: This information is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advise, diagnosis or treatment. If you or someone you know have any of the symptoms mentioned above, it is advisable to seek professional help.