March: Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

What is Colon Cancer?

This is a type of cancer that primarily impacts your colon, which lies towards the end of your digestive tract. This form of cancer usually manifests secondary to the presence of polyps in the colon. Polyps are small non-cancerous cell growths that develop inside the colon. They tend to be harmless but carry the capacity of potentially becoming cancerous. Regular screening is important, as polyps tend to produce little if any symptoms at all. 


Figure 1 – Colon Image

How is screening conducted?

Colon cancer screening typically begins around the age of 50. However, those with a family history of colon cancer may benefit from early screening. There are several screening options that would be difficult to outline. The best method of approach is to discuss the matter with your Doctor so that you may undertake the most appropriate screening method for you. Screening is paramount in the early detection of colon cancer, which significantly increases the chances of survival upon diagnosis.

What are its signs and symptoms?

Although symptoms tend to vary, they can include the following:

  • Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool.
  • Persistent abdominal discomfort (Cramps, gas or pain).
  • Weakness or fatigue.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Change in your bowel habits (may include diarrhea, change in consistency of feces or constipation).

It is important to note that despite possibly having one or all of these symptoms, you may not have colon cancer. However, if you are presenting with these symptoms in any fashion you should discuss the matter with your doctor to appropriately diagnose the underlying cause of your symptoms.

How is diagnosis achieved?

Diagnosis of colon cancer is achieved by means of a blood test and a colonoscopy. The blood test alone is not sufficient to determine the presence of cancer. It can, however, provide clues as to the potential presence of cancer and your overall health. For example, carcinoembryonic antigen is a blood protein typically elevated in cases of colon cancer. A colonoscopy uses as a scope to examine the inside of your colon. It employs a long, flexible tube attached to a camera. If there is suspicion of cancerous polyps or lesions, then a biopsy is collected using surgical tools to confirm the potential presence of colon cancer.

How is it treated?

In the early stages treatment involves the removal of the cancerous lesions. In more advanced stages, however, a colectomy may be performed, removing part of your colon; surgeries to create new ways for the passage of waste, which is conducted if it is not possible to reconnect the healthy portions of your colon to your rectum; and lymph node removal. Early screening and subsequent detection are paramount in mitigating the need for aggressive interventions.