Catching, Treating and Beating Colon Cancer Starts Here.
What is colon cancer?
Colon cancer starts in the lining of the colon – usually due to the growth of polyps made of abnormal cells. But not all polyps are cancerous. The two main kinds of polyps are:
- Hyperplastic polyps and inflammatory polyps – More common type. These polyps are typically not pre-cancerous.
- Adenomatous polyps (adenomas) – Because this type of polyp can change into cancer, adenomas are considered a pre-cancerous condition.
You may have heard the term, “colorectal cancer.” Doctors use it to refer to colon cancer and rectal cancer together, because many of the symptoms, challenges and conditions are the same. But for the purposes of this page, we are focusing on colon cancer.
The American Cancer Society estimates more than 95,520 new cases of colon cancer for 2017. At the same time, deaths from this disease have been on the decline for decades, and early detection is the key.
Specifically, polyps in the colon can be found via screening and removed before they have the chance to develop into cancers. These polyps are being discovered earlier; making treatment more effective. Finally, treatment for colon cancer has improved over the last few decades, and the team at RCCA is at the forefront of these treatments. Today, there are more than one million survivors of colorectal cancer in the United States.
Who is at risk for colon cancer?
Age is the greatest factor in increasing the risk factor for colon cancer. A majority of colon cancers are diagnosed in people age 50 and over. Other factors that can increase your risk are:
- Having a personal or family history of colorectal cancer or polyps
- Being treated for inflammatory conditions of the colon
- Not exercising regularly
- Eating a diet low in fiber and high in fats
- Being male
- Being African-American
However, you can still develop colon cancer even if none of the above risk factors apply to you. And people who have risk factors may never develop cancer. In many cases, the cause of colon cancer isn’t known.
Screening for colon cancer
Colon cancer is one of the most curable forms of cancer, thanks to accessible, advanced screenings. For most people, an annual colonoscopy is recommended from age 50 on. But if you have a family history of colon or colorectal cancer or other high-risk factors, your doctor may suggest you begin your annual screenings at a younger age. Among the most common and effective screenings are:
- Colonoscopy – During this procedure, the doctor uses a thin, flexible, lighted tube with a small video camera on the end to examine the entire length of the colon and rectum. Special instruments can be passed through the tube to biopsy (sample) and remove any suspicious-looking polyps.
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy – This is performed much like a colonoscopy, but during a sigmoidoscopy, the doctor examines the rectum and the lower part of the colon. Images from the scope are reviewed on a video screen, and if abnormalities are detected, they can often be removed during the exam.
- CT colonography — Also called a virtual colonoscopy, this exam creates 2-dimensional X-ray images that can be digitally assembled into a 3-dimensional view of the inside of the colon and rectum, which lets the doctor look for polyps or cancer.
Know the symptoms of colon cancer
You can do your part to detect colon cancer by being aware of its symptoms. If you experience any of the following signs, and they persist or worsen, tell your doctor. Some things to watch for include:
- Changes in bowel habits such as constipation or diarrhea
- Feeling like you have to go, even after a bowel movement
- Blood in the stool
- Stools that look thinner/narrower than usual
- Frequent gas pains, bloating, fullness, cramps or other abdominal discomfort
- Unintended weight loss
- Chronic fatigue or tiredness
- Unexplained iron deficiency
Treating colon cancer
Depending on the type of colon cancer and its stage (how far the cancer has spread), there are different approaches to treatment. Two main techniques are:
- Localized treatments – Surgery and radiation therapy target the area where cancer is present, and can be especially effective for early-stage (less-advanced) cancer.
- Systemic treatments – Chemotherapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy can reach cancer cells anywhere in the body. These therapies are often used to treat more advanced cancers, or as a follow up to localized care.
Committed to providing the highest standard of care for colon cancer
Delivering excellent care starts with RCCA’s experienced, highly credentialed physicians, who are unwavering in their dedication to making every phase of your care successful. From helping you understand your diagnosis to offering advanced, research-based treatments and access to clinical trials, rest assured that your RCCA doctor will lead a team that’s completely focused on you.