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Colon Cancer: Signs and Symptoms, Stages, Treatments, & Causes

Colon cancer is defined as tumorous growths that show up on a person’s large intestine. Within the U.S., it is the third most popular type of cancer, and the third highest cause around cancer-related fatalities. However, the silver lining to all this is that thanks to advancements in screening, diagnosis, and treatments, there has been a steady and increasing survival rate amongst this type of cancer.

On-going screenings are encouraged for those who are 50 years old and higher.

As mentioned above, colon cancer deals with the large intestine and generally begins with polyps within the intestine’s wall. Symptoms sometimes do not emerge until later stages and if this occurs, gastrointestinal issues can pop up.

As with any condition, being tuned into the symptoms early on is a key factor to fighting the battle of colon cancer. Below are some signs and symptoms the disease, stages, treatment options, and causes.

Signs and Symptoms

Unfortunately, there are generally no signs or symptoms during the early stages of colon cancer, but as the illness progresses, patients will notice some of the following:

  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • A person’s stool consistency will change, where narrow or loose stool develops
  • Patients will notice blood in their stool or rectal bleeding
  • Bloating, gas, abdominal pains, and cramps develop
  • Patients feel a pain sensation during bowel movements
  • Patients will feel a constant need to defecate
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Weight loss that is unexplained
  • The development of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may occur
  • Anemia/iron deficiency

***Should the cancer spread to another part of the body, patients will see additional symptoms pop up in this new region. A person’s liver generally tends to be the common area affected.

Stages

There are five different stages when it comes to colon cancer, and each one is dependent on how much the illness has spread.

Stage 0: This marks the earliest stage of colon cancer and is referred to as carcinoma in situ. This means that the cancer had not grown anymore than the colon’s inner layer.

Stage 1: This stage signifies that the illness has grown to the next layer of tissue; however, has not reached other organs or the lymph nodes.

Stage 2: During this stage, the cancer has hit the outer layers of a person’s colon, but has not gone beyond this point.

Stage 3: This indicates that the cancer has moved through the colon’s layers and has hit one of three lymph nodes, but has not hit other regions of the body.

Stage 4: This stage means that the cancer has spread beyond the colon’s wall and hit other tissues. As this stage wears on, the cancer spreads to other areas of the body.

Treatment

The most common treatments for colon cancer include chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery; however, the type of treatment patients choose depends heavily on the stage of cancer they are at, their health, their age, as well as other additional factors. The main goal of treatment is to remove the cancerous growths to relieve the painful symptoms of the disease.

Below is an overview of the differing colon cancer treatments available.

Surgery

Colectomy: This surgery treatment option removes either all or part of the colon where the cancer resides. Generally, lymph nodes close by are also removed. The healthy part of the colon is either attached to a stoma or re-attached to the rectum, and this depends on the scope of the colectomy.

Colostomy: This colon cancer surgery treatment involves removing the lower part of the colon.

Endoscopy: This is a type of colon cancer surgery where the localized or smaller growths are removed.

Laparoscopic: Doctors use numerous small incisions within the abdomen area and this might be the treatment needed when it comes to getting rid of larger polyps.

Palliative: This surgery relieves symptoms for those who have advanced or untreatable colon cancer. The goal is to release colon blockage to alleviate bleeding, pain, or any other symptoms.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy involves administering chemicals that can restrict the cell division process to kill cancer cells. This treatment actually targets any rapidly dividing cells (healthy or cancerous); however, the healthy ones do recover from the chemo, when the cancer cells simply cannot.

This is generally the treatment used for most cancers as it travels through the whole body and treatments are done in cycles; therefore, there is a good chunk of time between doses for the body to heal. Chemotherapy can be, and is often, mixed with other treatments to battle colon cancer.

Side effects of chemotherapy include:

  • Hair loss
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Radiation

This treatment aims to get rid of cancer cells via high-energy radioactive gamma-rays. They are produced from high-energy x-rays or metals such as radium. Sometimes radiations are used hand in hand with other treatments or as a standalone; however, most times these treatments are not used until later stages.

Some side effects from radiation include:

  • Subtle changes in skin that resemble a suntan or burn
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Appetite loss

***Most side effects stick around some weeks after treatment completion.

Causes

Generally speaking, body cells follow a cycle around growth, division, and death. In cancer cases, cells begin to grow and divide in an uncontrollable manner, and don’t seem to die.

Colon cancer stems from benign or noncancerous tumors referred to as adenomatous polyps that develop on the large intestine’s inner walls. Cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body via the lymph systems and blood. These cancer cells are able to grow and spread to nearby healthy tissue and then eventually through the body; this is when a patient’s condition becomes more serious and hard to treat.

While the root of colon cancer is unknown, there are some key risk factors, and they include:

Polyps

Colon cancer typically originates from precancerous polyps that are in a person’s large intestine. There are two common types of polyps:

Adenomas: They can look like the colon’s normal lining, yet under a microscope appear very different. They can also turn cancerous.

Hyperplastic: These are generally benign and rarely turn into colon cancer.

 

There are types of polyps that can grow into malignant colon cancer as time wears on, if not damaged and killed through treatment during its early stages.

Genes

One of the risks around colon cancers is genetics, although many with the condition do not have a family history around this disease. Some individuals are simply born with genetic mutations which increase their risk of getting cancer as they grow older.

Age

This is a key risk factor for the illness. In fact, approximately 91% of those diagnosed with colon cancer are over 50 years of age.

Lifestyle

Individuals who smoke, are obese, and life sedentary lifestyles are likely to develop colon cancer.

Diet

Diet is a key factor when it comes to risks around colon cancer; after all, the colon is a huge component of one’s digestive system. Those who eat low in fiber, but high in fat, calories, processed meats, red meats, and consume excessive alcohol increase their chances around developing colon cancer.

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