Originating in the large intestines, also known as the colon, colon cancer is among the top 5 most commonly occurring cancers. Older adults are typically the majority of the age group that is affected by this cancer. This cancer is also referred to as Colo-Rectal Cancer.
What causes colon cancer?
As with the case with the majority of cancers, the exact cause of colon cancer is unknown to scientists. The mechanism which acts in the causation of cancer starts when the DNA of the healthy cells undergoes abnormal changes. DNA contains the set of instructions that are utilized by cells while dividing. The mutated DNA makes the cells divide without any limit and hence forming a cluster of cells which we normally refer to as a polyp. This tumor, if constituted of cancerous cells is known as a cancerous tumor and if this uncontrolled division was of healthy cells, the tumor formed is non-cancerous.
What are the risk factors?
There are certain factors that increase the risk of one developing colon cancer. They are as follows
– No Physical Activity: People who don’t indulge in light to moderate physical activity on a daily basis put themselves at a higher risk of developing colon cancer.
– Smoke & Alcohol: Nothing good comes with the consumption of alcohol or smoking, people who actively consume these are at a higher risk of colon cancer.
– Diabetes: Diabetic people are naturally at a higher risk of developing colon cancer.
– Low FIber Diet: Eating more processed foods and not eating enough fiber-rich foods puts one at a higher risk of developing colon cancer.
– Inherited Syndromes: Syndromes like Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP) and Lynch syndrome increase the risk of people developing colon cancer along the course of life.
– Intestinal Inflammation: People who have suffered from diseases like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, both of which are a result of chronic inflammation of the colon, are at a greater risk of developing colon cancer.
What are the symptoms of colon cancer?
Patients generally don’t have any symptoms in the early stages of this disease. The symptoms begin to appear when the disease starts to progress into advanced stages, some most commonly appearing symptoms include
– Losing weight unexpectedly
– Extreme fatigue
– Sense of bloating
– Regular onset of abdominal cramps
– Presence of blood in stool
– Changes in the bowel habits
– Series of constipation and diarrhea
Mode of diagnosis
As the early stages of cancer don’t show any symptoms, early screening and treatment can be a blessing for the patient. The most commonly used screening methods for people who show mild symptoms of colon cancer are as follows:
– Colonoscopy: In this process, a long and slender tube that has a video camera attached to its end is used to view the insides of the large intestines. In this process, if the medical professional happens to see any suspicious tissues, they can take the tissue samples bypassing the tools directly through the tubes, and also remove polyps before they get a chance to become cancerous.
– Blood Tests: A blood test is used to detect the chemical released by the colon cancer known as Carcinoembryonic Antigen(CEA). Over the period of time, the increase or decrease in the levels of CEA can help conclude if the treatment is working or not. This is done to gauge the extent of the overall health of the liver and kidneys and if they had any side effects due to the treatment procedures for cancer.
– Body Scans: This is mostly used to determine the stage of cancer, methods like CT Scans are taken into use to predict the stage, the cancer is currently in.
For cancer that is still in early stages the commonly used procedures are as follows:
– Polypectomy: If the cancer is in a very early stage and is contained in the polyp, the doctor can completely remove it.
– Endoscopic mucosal resection: In this procedure, larger polyps are removed using special tools along with a small layer of the lining of the colon.
– Laparoscopic surgery: This technique is used when the polyps are not removable by colonoscopy. In this procedure, multiple small cuts are made in the abdominal wall, through which the surgical tools and cameras required for the surgery are inserted.
For advanced stages of colon cancer, the procedures used are:
– Partial colectomy: This is a laparoscopic procedure in which the part of the colon housing cancer and the tissues surrounding the cancer is removed and the healthy parts are reconnected surgically.
– Ostomy: This procedure is done when it’s not possible to connect the parts of the colon back together. In this case, an opening is created in the abdominal wall and a bag is attached to the opening to collect the stools, this bag might be there temporarily if the doctor wants to give time for colon tissues to heal or can be permanent also.
Other general methods for advanced stages of cancer:
– Chemotherapy: This method is taken into use after the surgery to kill any remaining cancerous cells and hence reduce the risks of reducing chances of reoccurrence.
– Radiotherapy: It implies the use of powerful radiations like X-rays to kill cancerous cells. This procedure is used to shrink cancer before surgery and to reduce pain due to cancer.
– Targeted Drug Therapy: This method is used to deal with specific weak points of cancerous cells, hence the drugs attack the pain points of cancer which causes them to die.
– Immunotherapy: This procedure aims to train the immune system to better fight the cancerous cells by interfering with the process by which the immune system labels a cellular entity as a threat.
Methods of prevention
The steps one can take to reduce the chance of developing colon cancer are as follows:
– Eating a balanced diet: Eating all varieties of food provides the body with surplus amounts of all the nutrients, which helps in the prevention of colon cancer.
– Limit alcohol consumption: If possible stop the consumption of alcohol altogether, as nothing good comes from this.
– Exercise regularly: 30 minutes of light to moderate activity daily goes a long way in keeping one healthy.
– Maintaining body weight: Maintaining the bodyweight at healthy levels significantly reduces the risk of not only the colon but almost 70% of cancers. This can be done through regular exercise and balanced calorie intake.