Colon cancer forms when the uncontrolled cell growth happens in the cells of the large intestine. Colon cancer is not necessarily the same as rectal cancer, but they often occur together in what is called colorectal cancer. Rectal cancer originates in the rectum, which is the last several inches of the large intestine, closest to the anus. Most cancers of colon originate from small, non-cancerous clumps on the inner wall of the large intestine. These clumps of cells are called adenomatous polyps which over the time become into colon cancer if not removed during colonoscopy.
Colorectal Polyps and Colon Cancer: What’s the link?
Polyps are harmless and commonly occurring outgrowths in the internal lining of organs in our body. Polyps are seen to occur occasionally and disappear by themselves and are considered as the body’s natural response to stress or functional imbalance in a particular organ. Colorectal polyps are those which occur in the colon or rectum. These polyps are expected to vanish by themselves or co-exist harmlessly in the colon itself. The problem begins when carcinogens make an impact on these nascent polyps and turn them into precursors of cancerous tissue.
Yes, colorectal polyps can turn into precursors of cancerous tumors under the influence of carcinogens. This is the unique relationship observed between colorectal polyps and colon cancer, one that usually does not occur in other organs except in special cases. As mentioned, polyps can occur in any part of the body, but in most cases, the polyps are found to stay harmless and non-cancerous. It must also be noted here that polyps themselves are representatives of undesirable health conditions and should be made to disappear through disciplined diet and lifestyle.
Colon Cancer: Causes & Risk Factors
All sort of cancers begin with some errors, abnormalities or mutation in our cells’ DNA. Alterations in the DNA of cells interrupt the normal process of division. Colon cancer also starts developing when the DNA of healthy cells in the colon start developing abnormalities and continue to divide even when it’s not needed. These unwanted cells accumulate to form a cancer tumor. Most colorectal cancers are also found to develop from these adenomatous polyps within the inner lining of the colorectal passage. The polyps either stay harmless or become hyperplastic and cancerous. Colon cancer is the direct result of such a change.
Other than the above, following reasons are also accountable for this cancer:
- Exposure to carcinogens like radioactive elements
- Excessive red meat or processed meat diet
- Bowel syndromes
- Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis
- Heavy alcoholism;
- Physical inactivity and
- Type 2 diabetes are all conditions which can lead to growth of cancer properties in these polyps.
Factors that may increase your risk include:
- Age: Most of the people diagnosed with this cancer are in their 50s or older. Diagnosed in younger people is a very rare condition.
- Medical History: If you had been diagnosed with the cancer earlier, then there might be great chance for the cancer to reoccur.
- Genetic Risk: If someone in your immediate family had this cancer or genetic syndromes passed through generations of your family can increase your risk of colon cancer.
- Low-Fiber, High-Fat Diet: Researchers have found that those who eat diets high in red meat and processed meat are more likely to develop the colon cancer.
- An Inactive Lifestyle: If you’re inactive, there is an increased chance to for you to fall into the line of having the cancer of colon.
- Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy directed at the abdomen to treat previous cancers may increase the risk of colon cancer.
Signs & Symptoms
Most of the patients do not show the cancer symptoms in its early stages. Signs and symptoms also vary from person to person, depending on the tumor’s size and its location.
Signs and Symptoms of Colon Cancer Include:
- Experiencing difficulty in bowel habits like constipation, diarrhoea or any sort of change in the consistency of your stool.
- Weakness or fatigue
- Blood appearing in your rectal or stool
- Having severe abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain
- Heaviness in your bowel area
Depending on the signs and symptoms you are experiencing, your doctor may prescribe one or more tests or examinations:
- Colonoscopy: In colonoscopy a slender, long and flexible catheter or tube with the attached camera is inserted to monitor your rectum and colon area. If any abnormalities are found, then some sort of surgical tools are inserted through the tube to extract few tissue samples for biopsy.
- Blood Tests: Although no blood tests is enough to ascertain the colon cancer, it may give clues about your other vital health functions
Staging & Treatment
Once there’s been a definitive diagnosis of a colon cancer, the patient is further examined to find out the stage of the cancer which helps in deciding on the various treatment options.
Staging tests involves various imaging scans like abdominal and chest CT scans.
Staging of Colon Cancer
The stage of any cancer explains the extent of the cancer and helps in knowing how serious the disease have become, which treatment option is best or relevant for the patient and how successful it can be.
- Stage I: This is the earliest stage in which cancerous cells started growing at the superficial lining (mucosa) of the colon or rectum but not beyond the inner wall of the colon wall or rectum yet.
- Stage II: During the second stage, cancerous cells have penetrated through the wall of the colon or rectum but hasn’t spread to nearby lymph nodes and distant sites.
- Stage III: In this cancer has grown to affect lymph nodes finally but the other organs of the body or distant sites are not impacted yet.
- Stage IV: Now, the cancer has grown out of the wall of colon or rectum affecting nearby lymph nodes. It has also spread to other distant parts or organs like liver and lungs.
Treatment of Colon Cancer
There are different types of colon cancer treatment for patients with depending on the stage of the cancer. The colorectal cancer treatment options differ from case to case.
- Surgery: It is the most preferred treatment option and involves removal of the cancerous tissue to control further spread. Depending on the stage of the colon cancer and how far it is spread, the surgeon may opt to prefer local excision or resection. Local excision is usually carried out when tumor is localized and is in early stages. Polypectomy involves removal of polyps.
Resection is a bigger surgery and might involve removal of cancer cells that are large in volume. The doctor may then sew the healthy parts of the colon together. This is called as Anastomosis.
Most of the times lymph nodes are also removed. In cases where healthy parts of the colon cannot be sewed together, a small opening is made on the outside of the body to let the waste pass through. A bag is placed around the stoma for timely removal of the waste. This is called as resection with colostomy.
- Radiofrequency Ablation: Radiofrequency ablation takes use of special probe which contains tiny electrodes that kill cancer cells. It may be done under local anaesthesia or general anaesthesia based on each individual case.
- Cryosurgery: This is specialized surgery that uses instrument to freeze and destroy cancerous tissue. This type of treatment is also called Cryotherapy.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy utilises drugs to kill cancerous cells by variety of mechanisms. These drugs enter the bloodstream via mouth or through vein and may either kill the cancer cells directly or by inhibiting their cell division.
- Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy utilises high-energy X-rays or specialised radiations to kill cancer cells or arrest their growth. They are of two types:
- External Radiation Therapy is carried out using a machine placed outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer
- Internal Radiation Therapy is based on utilising radioactive substance that are placed near the cancer to emit radioactive waves and kill the cancer cells
- Targeted Therapy: As the name suggests, targeted therapy aims at specific cancer cells and kill them without harming normal cells, unlike chemotherapy. Hence, leads to lesser side effects.
Although no alternative treatments or medications have been found to cure or treat colon cancer, certain lifestyle and therapies may help in improving the life of the patients.
Almost all cancer patients go through depression and some sort of distress. After the diagnosis of the disease, many patients experience sadness, difficulty in accepting, sleeping, anguish, loss of appetite. Alternative therapies may help patients in getting over these symptoms and redirecting their focus to offer some relief.
Alternative Therapies Include:
- Art Therapy
- Music Therapy
- Dance or Movement Therapy
- Relaxation Exercises
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