What is colon cancer?
The colon or large intestine is the portion of the digestive tract located between the small intestine and the rectum. Its function is basically to absorb water and salts of digested foods in the upper reaches of the digestive tract. The rectum is the final section of the tube and its function is to form and store the stool.
Colon cancer appears because the colon’s mucosa evolves into a malignant tumor. Occasionally, it also affects the rectal area, provoking a colorectal cancer.
This type of cancer is one of the most common and easy to diagnose if detected early. Normally, malignant cells are located in the middle and longer portion of the large intestine.
Colon cancer symptoms
In many cases, colon cancer has some symptoms or signs. These may vary depending on the location of the tumor in the large intestine. The most frequent discomforts are usually:
- Blood in the stool: the color of the blood can be red or black. The red one appears when the person presents tumors of the most distant part of the colon and rectum. Black blood appears because it is digested and comes from tracts of the colon closest to the rectum.
- Changes in the intestinal rhythm: the patient suffers periods of constipation combined with periods of diarrhea.
- Abdominal pain or discomfort: the tumor partially obstructs the intestinal tube and produces a pain similar to colic.
- Loss of weight without apparent cause and appearance of fatigue: any disease related to the stomach has these symptoms.
What are the causes of colon cancer?
The main factors that cause the development of this disease are:
- Consumption of alcohol and tobacco.
- Obesity and high caloric intake.
- Diet rich in fats and poor in fruits, vegetables and fiber.
This cancer can appear by family history. These may have presented other types of cancer such as breast or pancreas or have suffered diseases that predispose to the appearance of polyps in the colon.
Age can also be a risk factor, since the probability of the appearance of this disease can increase after 40 years. However, it can also develop at earlier ages.
5 tips for the prevention of colon cancer
There is no absolute way to prevent cancer, but it is possible to take certain measures that can help reduce your risk:
- Avoid constipation
- Reduce alcohol and avoid tobacco
- At certain age, perform periodic reviews.
- Pay attention to your depositions.
- Regular physical activity.
How is colon cancer diagnosed?
When colon cancer still has no symptoms, there is more chance of overcoming this type of tumor, which has high cure rates.
According to the AECC, the survival to this disease after 5 years of being detected precociously is placed in 64% of the patients, a data superior to the average of the European countries, that is of a 57%. The diagnosis is based on the combination of a series of tests:
Hidden blood test in stool: used to find out if there is blood that cannot be seen easily.
- Physical examination: a digital rectal examination is performed to rule out the presence of physical abnormalities, lumps or pain in the rectum.
- Barium enema with double contrast: it is a type of radiography, focused on the colon and rectum
- Colonoscopy: used to observe the inside of the digestive tract through a tube that is inserted through the rectum and take samples of tissue or suspicious lesions (biopsy) and then analyze them.
What treatments are applied to colon cancer?
The goal of this treatment is to eliminate all cancerous tissue by surgery. Depending on the degree of evolution, this operation will have a curative purpose or may require additional treatments and even, in advanced cases, it will only constitute a palliative treatment. Hence, early identification is especially relevant.
Chemotherapy / Radiotherapy
In cases where surgery cannot ensure complete elimination of cancerous tissue, metastases or risk factors that may indicate that the tumor will reappear, treatment may include chemotherapy and / or radiation therapy.
Chemotherapy may be given as an additional treatment after or before surgery, instead of surgery if cancer cells have spread to the liver or other places of the organism. It can also be customized depending on the genetics of the tumor. Another option is to integrate the two treatments at the same time, performing a cytoreductive surgery (where the tumor and implants that may have been produced inside the abdomen are removed) and a HIPEC, which involves applying a dose of hot chemotherapy directly on the tumor during the operation.
Radiation therapy is not routinely used in colon cancer. However, in situations where there is concern that the tumor will regrow in the original location after surgery, radiation therapy can be considered.