What is colon cancer?
Colon cancer is cancer that forms in the colon. The colon, also known as the large intestine or bowel, is part of the digestive system and removes water from digested food before it’s excreted as feces. Both men and women can get it, but it occurs more frequently in men over 50 and women over 60.
What causes colon cancer?
The exact cause of colon cancer isn’t known, but a few factors may increase a person’s chance of developing it:
- African Americans are at higher risk for colon cancer than Caucasians.
- Personal history – People with family members who had colon polyps or colorectal (colon or rectal) cancer are at higher risk for colon cancer.
- Diseases and conditions – Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease cause inflammation in the colon; hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (HNPCC); and familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), a disorder that causes colon polyps to form, can all lead to it. Other predisposing factors include benign tumors such as leiomyomas, lipomas, lymphangiomas, dermoid cysts, or neurofibromas.
What are the symptoms of colon cancer?
Symptoms may include:
– Abdominal pain
– Loss of appetite
– Unexplained weight loss
– Rectal bleeding when passing stool
– Dark, tarry stool
– Narrow stools that are difficult to expel
– Gas or cramping in the abdomen or lower back
To prevent colon cancer, it’s essential to get screened for colon polyps. Although it is often called “the silent killer,” early detection through routine screenings may provide an opportunity for successful treatment before the disease becomes life-threatening. If colon polyps are found during colonoscopy, removing them can reduce colon cancer risk by up to 90%.
What is a colonoscopy?
A colonoscopy is a medical procedure for people with current or past symptoms. It is also recommended to prevent those with an increased risk of colon cancer, such as those with a family history of colon cancer.
The colonoscopy process generally begins by going to the doctor’s office and taking a stool sample. The patient will then eat a laxative-heavy diet that night and all day the next day in preparation for the colonoscopy. This may mean avoiding things like seeds, nuts, corn, raw fruits, vegetables, red meat, and dairy products, among other foods. A long list of medications will also need to be avoided since these can cause issues during the colonoscopy process.
Before a colonoscopy, a colon cancer patient will visit a colon and rectal surgeon to ensure a colonoscopy is an appropriate option for addressing symptoms or concerns. This may be done by biopsy of any suspected polyps before going forward with the colonoscopy.
Then, on the morning of colonoscopy day, the patient typically eliminates all food from their system. Some choose to eat lightly beforehand since they may not have eaten anything for up to 24 hours already. They are then given medication to make them sleepy and numb before surgery.
The colon and the rectal surgeon perform a colonoscopy through the anus while looking at a screen directly in front of them, inserting a thin, flexible tube with a camera and light that emits images onto the screen. Many colon cancer patients report little to no pain during colonoscopy, but discomfort is possible.
The colon and rectal surgeon may remove any polyps or growths found during colonoscopy or will remove a sample of tissue for testing if they suspect colon cancer. The colon and the rectal surgeon then fill out a form before sending the patient home with medication for recovery.
It typically takes about 30 minutes to perform a colonoscopy from when the patient enters the operating room until they leave it—although some people may take more than one hour. A colonoscopy does not require hospitalization, so those who have access to recovery rooms or private homes should plan accordingly.
After the colonoscopy, expect to pass black stool and/or blood for one day. This is normal and typically subsides within a few days. Patients should not be afraid of colon cancer symptoms because colonoscopies are the best way to address concerns and detect it early. Colon cancer symptoms will last longer than the recovery after colonoscopy, so scheduling time off work and home is essential if needed.
A follow-up visit with your doctor’s office is mandatory after receiving results from a colonoscopy procedure in order for you to learn more about any abnormalities found during colonoscopy surgery, including their potential risk of being colon cancer. If colon cancer is suspected, additional testing will be required. Colon cancer risks may also be reduced through colonoscopies and other preventative measures like exercise, diet, and smoking cessation.
The colonoscopy procedure is the most accurate way to check for colon cancer at its earliest stages. A colonoscopy can detect many colon cancers or abnormal growths before they become life-threatening—which is why it’s crucial to schedule colonoscopies as recommended by your doctor.
While colon cancer screenings are not 100% effective in preventing colon cancer, discussing colon cancer symptoms with a doctor specializing in colon and rectal treatment is the best first step toward proper diagnosis and patient recovery after colonoscopy surgery.