Cancer of the colon and rectum is the third leading cause of cancer in men and the fourth in women. While this form of cancer is often very treatable, you need to know when you are at a high risk so you can take preventative measures.
Understanding the Colon
The colon is a component of the digestive system. It is a long, tube-line organ where waste product is stored after your body has removed the nutrients from it. At the end of the colon is the rectum, next to the anus. This muscular tube, also known as the large intestine or large bowel, is a very important component to digestion.
Tumors of the colon and rectum are common. They often occur on the inner wall of the colon. Many are benign tumors called polyps. However, malignant tumors can also occur here. These are cancerous tumors.
Benign tumors don’t spread. They do not impact other tissue in the body. And, when having a colonoscopy, your doctor can easily remove them. These are not life threatening to you. If these are not removed, though, they can become malignant. In fact, most tumors that are malignant in the colon are believed to begin as polyps.
When cancer is present in this area, it can invade and damage the organs and tissues surrounding the colon. They can break away from these tumors and spread to other parts of your body including the lungs and liver. Then, new tumors can form in these areas. Colon cancer, also called colorectal cancer, can metastasize, or spread, throughout the body. When this happens, it is difficult for treatment to cure the cancer.
Though colon cancer is not uncommon, it is still one of the most important conditions to have treated. We know that colorectal cancer is less common in some areas. It is less common in Asia and Africa. It is most common in Western countries. Western diets are thought to be a key reason people develop this condition.
Symptoms of Colon Cancer
Symptoms of colon cancer are not specific and they range significantly. They may include:
- Shortness of breath
- Changes in bowel habits
- Red or dark blood in the stool
- Narrow stool
- Weight loss that’s unexplained
- Cramping, bloating, or abdominal pain
However, conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, diverticulosis, and peptic ulcer disease are all conditions that can have similar symptoms. This makes symptom diagnosis difficult.
In most situations, cancerous tumors and cells are present in the body for a long time before any symptoms occur. And, those symptoms will range dependent on where the polyps develop. For example, right colon cancers can become very large because the area is more open. They often grow undetected for a long time as a result. These cancers often cause iron deficiencies because they cause a slow loss of blood over a long period of time. This can cause fatigue, shortness of breath, and weakness.
On the left side, which is narrow, cancers tend to cause symptoms sooner because the tumor will impact the function of the colon faster. This type of cancer can cause constipation, narrowed stool, abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, and diarrhea because the colon tunnel is blocked. This may also cause bright red blood in the stool.
When to See a Colon Cancer Doctor
If you believe you are at a high risk for developing colon cancer, or you believe that you may have these symptoms, your Brooklyn colon cancer doctor can help you. There are a number of tests that can be run to offer both preventative treatment and care as well as treatment for existing polyps. Colonoscopies are one of the best ways to do this. These are procedures that are used as a preventative tool to help check the health of the interior of the colon. If and when there is a concern related to cancer, such as the presence of a polyp, doctors can immediately remove it for further investigation. If larger tumors are found, we can then take steps to treat it through the proper means.
It is recommended that individuals who are over the age of 50 have a colonoscopy. Treatment of polyps is easy and highly effective. It can prevent the onset of colon cancer in many people. When you come in to see our Brooklyn gastroenterologist, we’ll work with you to better understand your risk factors for this condition as well as when you should have a colonoscopy to look for any signs of this condition.