The colon refers to your body’s large intestine. This is where salt and water is removed from the solid wastes. These wastes then travel through your rectum and get expelled out of your body in the form of feces.
You can develop colon cancer when tumors form on your large intestine’s inner walls. Most of these tumors are benign (this means “non-cancerous”) but some can be malignant (cancerous).
When these tumors accumulate, they may also spread through your lymph systems and your bloodstream to the other parts of your body.
This can ultimately result in “metastasis.” This refers to the process wherein the malignant tumors invade healthy organs and tissues nearby and in other parts of your body.
It happens at a pretty advanced stage of cancer and becomes harder to treat.
What causes colon cancer?
No one knows what exactly causes colon cancer. However, there are a number of risk factors that make you more vulnerable to developing this condition.
Underlying illnesses and conditions
There are some illnesses and treatments that have been linked to a higher likelihood of developing colon cancer. Some of these are the following:
- Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and other inflammatory bowel conditions
- Having undergone radiation treatment in the past for other types of cancer
- A growth hormone disorder called “acromegaly”
Diet and lifestyle
The colon, as mentioned earlier, refers to your large intestine. Thus, your diet and everything that goes through it is a significant factor.
An increased likelihood of developing colon cancer has been found in people whose diets are high in processed meats, alcoholic beverages, red meat, calories, and fat, and low in dietary fiber.
In addition, people who smoke, are overweight or obese, and have little to no physical activity are more susceptible to developing colon cancer.
Lastly, another major factor is a person’s age. Roughly 91% of the people who have been diagnosed with colon cancer are over 50 years old.
If your cells have experienced genetic damage, or if there have been changes made to your DNA that affected the division of your cells, it can result in uncontrolled growth of cells.
It should also be noted that while it is possible to inherit a genetic tendency from earlier generations, the majority of colon cancers happen in individuals without any history of colon cancer in the family.
Some individuals are born with specific mutations in their genes that make their probability of developing colon cancer in the future a lot higher.
It should be noted though that there are cases when an individual has this genetic mutation but he or she will not develop colon cancer unless it has been triggered by an environmental factor.
Often, colon cancer stems from pre-cancerous polyps already present in your colon.
The following are the two most common kinds of polyps:
- Hyperplastic polyps – This type of polyps is usually benign so it is very rare for colon cancer to derive from this type. However, some hyperplastic polyps may grow into cancerous tumors eventually if you fail to have them removed during the early phase of your treatment.
- Adenomas – they may look like the normal wall or lining of the large intestine but if checked under a microscope, they look different. They can become malignant over time.
What are the symptoms of colon cancer?
During the early stages of colon cancer, you may not experience any signs or symptoms.
However, as the cancer progress to the more advanced stages, the following symptoms may be experienced:
- Iron deficiency anemia
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Sudden and unexplained weight loss
- Fatigue (always feeling tired or weak)
- Continuous urges to go to the bathroom to expel stools
- Pain during defecation or bowel movements
- Gas or feeling bloated
- Abdominal pain
- Presence of blood in your stools
- Bleeding of the rectum
- Narrow or loose stools
- Changes in the consistency of your stools
If the malignant cells spread to another part of your body, additional symptoms can manifest for that new part. Usually, the first organ that gets infected by the cancer cells in the liver.
How is colon cancer diagnosed?
To diagnose colon cancer, your doctor will first conduct a thorough physical examination.
Aside from this, he or she will also ask you about your personal medical conditions and any known medical conditions in your family history.
As for the actual diagnosis, it can be done either through a barium enema X-ray or a colonoscopy.
How is colon cancer treated?
There are various treatment options for colon cancer.
The right treatment for you will depend on your health status, age, stage and type of cancer, as well as other individual conditions.
The three most commonly used treatments for colon cancer include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and surgery.
In this treatment, the malignant cells are killed by concentrating high-energy gamma rays on them.
Radiation therapy can be conducted as a standalone treatment for destroying malignant cells or shrinking a cancerous tumor.
However, it can also be used together with other treatments for cancer. Usually, radiation therapy is only used when colon cancer is already in the later stages.
However, it can also be used in early-stage rectal cancer if cancer has already infected lymph nodes nearby or if the rectum’s wall has already been penetrated.
Radiation therapy may cause the following side effects:
- Loss of weight
- Loss of appetite
In this treatment, the malignant cells are killed by using chemicals that interfere with your body’s cell division process by disrupting DNA or proteins.
However, the disadvantage of chemotherapy is that is targets all cells that are rapidly dividing, including the healthy ones.
Usually, though, healthy cells are able to recover from the damage induced by chemotherapy. Some of the side effects of this treatment include:
- Hair loss
In this option, a surgical procedure will be conducted to remove part of or the entire colon containing the malignant tumors. This procedure is known as “colectomy“.
If you have reasons to believe that you have colon cancer or you might be at risk for it, consult a doctor immediately.
If you have found this article useful, read some more about related topics.