Dr. Aditya Kulkarni is a Consultant of Laparoscopic and Robotic Gastrointestinal, Hepato-biliary-pancreatic, and Cancer Surgeon at the renowned Ruby Hall
Cancer is a difficult disease to manage, both for the person who is diagnosed and their loved ones. When it comes to colon cancer specifically, patients can feel overwhelmed by the information they are bombarded with.
This guide is designed for patients & their families to better understand colon cancer and its nature to manage it and make better informed decisions.
This article covers the following sections. It is our hope that this information will help you take control of your care and feel more confident in navigating your journey. Stay tuned!
What is Colon Cancer?
Colon cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is a type of cancer that starts in the large intestine (colon) or the rectum (end of the colon). Cancer begins when cells in the body start to grow out of control. Cells in nearly any part of the body can become cancer, and can spread to other areas
When colon cancer spreads (metastasizes), it often goes to the liver first. It can also spread to the lungs, lymph nodes, and other organs.
According to The Cancer India, Indian Cancer Organization,
“The incidence of colorectal cancer in India is lower than that in the western countries, and it is the seventh leading cancer in India. In India, more men (62%) than women (38%) develop colon cancer. The disease is more common in urban areas than rural areas.”
Colon cancer is sometimes called colorectal cancer, which combines colon cancer and rectal cancer, which is cancer that starts in the last several inches of the colon. Most cases of colon cancer begin as small, noncancerous (benign) polyps on the inside of the colon or rectum. Over time some of these polyps can become cancerous
Cancerous cells can also spread to other parts of the body through the bloodstream and lymphatic system. When this happens, it is called metastasis. Cancer that has spread is still named after the part of the body where it started—for example, colon cancer that has spread to the liver is called metastatic colon cancer, not liver cancer.
Causes of Colon Cancer
Cancer occurs when the body’s cells divide and grow too rapidly. This unregulated cell division can cause a mass, or tumor, to form. Cancerous tumors are malignant, meaning they can invade nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body. Benign tumors, on the other hand, do not spread.
The cause of colon cancer is unknown, but there are certain risk factors that may increase your chance of developing the disease. These include:
The risk of colon cancer increases with age. Most cases occur in people over the age of 50
If you have a family member who has had colon cancer or polyps, you are at increased risk
Chronic inflammatory bowel disease:
Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are two types of inflammatory bowel disease that can increase your risk of colon cancer
A diet high in red or processed meats (such as hot dogs and bacon) and low in fruits and vegetables has been linked to an increased risk of colon cancer. A diet high in fat and calories may also increase your risk
People who are obese have an increased risk of colon cancer
Smoking cigarettes increases the risk of colon cancer
Drinking alcohol increases the risk of colon cancer
Risk Factors for Colon Cancer
In addition to the above causes, there are certain lifestyle choices that can increase your risk of developing colon cancer. These include:
- A sedentary lifestyle,
- Heavy alcohol use,
- A diet high in red or processed meats, and
- A diet low in fruits and vegetables
If you have any of the above risk factors, or if you experience symptoms of colon cancer, it’s important to see a doctor for a diagnosis. Symptoms of colon cancer can include:
- Blood in the stool,
- A change in bowel habits (such as diarrhoea or constipation),
- Abdominal pain for long period, and
- Unexplained Weight loss
Your doctor will likely perform a physical exam, as well as order tests to check for colon cancer. These may include a colonoscopy, a sigmoidoscopy, or a CT scan.
A colonoscopy is an exam of the entire colon and rectum using a long, thin tube with a camera attached. A sigmoidoscopy is similar, but only exams the lower part of the colon. During a CT scan, X-rays are used to create cross-sectional images of the body
If you are diagnosed with colon cancer, your doctor will stage the cancer to determine how far it has spread. Staging is based on the results of your physical exam, biopsy, and imaging tests. There are four stages of colon cancer, ranging from stage I (the cancer is small and localized) to stage IV (the cancer has spread to other parts of the body).
Treatment for Colon Cancer
The treatment for colon cancer depends on the stage of the disease. Treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.
is the most common treatment for colon cancer. The type of surgery you have will depend on the stage of your cancer. For early-stage cancers, a partial colectomy may be all that is needed. This surgery removes the part of the colon with cancer, as well as a margin of healthy tissue around it
For more advanced cancers, a total colectomy may be necessary. This surgery removes the entire colon and rectum. In some cases, the surgeon may also need to remove nearby lymph nodes and/or other organs, such as the liver or ovaries
uses high-energy beams, such as X-rays, to kill cancer cells. It is often used in combination with surgery for early-stage cancers. For more advanced cancers, radiation therapy may be used to shrink the tumor before surgery
is a type of cancer treatment that uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be given intravenously (through an IV) or orally (in pill form). It is often used in combination with surgery and/or radiation therapy
After treatment, it’s important to see your doctor for follow-up appointments to check for cancer recurrence. You will also need to have regular colonoscopies to screen for new cancers.
Prognosis & Survivorship in Colon Cancer
The prognosis for colon cancer depends on the stage of the disease. The 5-year survival rate for stage I colon cancer is about 90%. This means that about 9 out of 10 people with stage I colon cancer will be alive 5 years after diagnosis
The 5-year survival rate for stage IV colon cancer is about 10%. This means that about 1 out of 10 people with stage IV colon cancer will be alive 5 years after diagnosis
There are a number of support groups and resources available for people with colon cancer and their caregivers. These can help you through your treatment and survivorship journey.
Prevention of Colon Cancer
There are a number of things you can do to reduce your risk of colon cancer. These include:
- Quit smoking
- Eat a healthy diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and low in red meat
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Get regular screenings for colon cancer
If you have any questions or concerns about colon cancer, be sure to talk to your doctor. They can help you understand your risks and what you can do to prevent the disease.
Coping with Colon Cancer
A cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. You may feel scared, confused, and alone. It’s important to remember that you are not alone. There are many resources available to help you through this time.
Some tips for coping with colon cancer include:
- Find a support group
- Talk to a counselor or therapist
- Exercise regularly
- Eat a healthy diet
- Get regular screenings for colon cancer
Colon cancer is a serious disease, but if caught early it can be treated and cured. This blog post has hopefully provided you with all the information you need to know about colon cancer – from the basics to more specific advice on coping with the disease. If you have any further questions or would like to share your own experiences with colon cancer, please write to us at email@example.com or leave a comment below. We’d love to hear from you.