The Signs of Colon Cancer and How to Treat It
February 21 2023
Everything You Need to Know, from Prevention to Treatment of Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer may not cause immediate symptoms. In fact, many of the symptoms of colon cancer can be attributed to other problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease, infection, or hemorrhoids.
What is Colon Cancer?
Colon cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the large intestine (colon). While this type of cancer generally affects older adults, it can happen at any age. This form of cancer generally begins as small, benign clumps of cells called polyps that form inside the colon. Over time, some of these polys can become cancerous.
These polyps may be small and produce few, if any, symptoms. It is this reason that doctors recommend regular screening tests to help prevent colon cancer by identifying and removing polyps before they turn into cancer.
Symptoms of Colon Cancer
If you have any of the following symptoms, it is important to get checked. You may not have colon cancer, as previously mentioned, but you may have polyps that can be treated. If you don’t have polyps, your doctor can work on diagnosing some other bowel issue.
The signs and symptoms of colon cancer include:
- A persistent change in your bowel habits including diarrhea, constipation, or a change in the consistency of your stool
- Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool
- Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas, or pain
- A feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely
- Weakness or fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
It is important to remember that most people with colon cancer experience no symptoms in the earliest stages of the disease. When symptoms do appear, those symptoms will vary depending on the size of the cancer and its location in your large intestine. If you notice any persistent symptoms that worry you, make an appointment with your doctor.
Scientists and doctors aren’t certain what causes most colon cancers. Cancer occurs when a healthy cell develops a mutation in its DNA. A cell’s DNA contains the set of instructions that tell the cell what to do. However, when the DNA is damaged and becomes cancerous, the cell will continue to divide even when new cells are not needed. This is why cancerous cells grow and spread. Over time, cancer cells can invade and destroy healthy tissue nearby. When the cancer spreads to other areas of the body, that is when cancer has metastasized.
Factors that can increase your risk of developing colon cancer include:
- Older age: the majority of people with colon cancer are older than 50, however, rates in people younger than 50 have been increasing, though doctors are not sure why.
- Race: African Americans are at a higher risk than people of other races.
- Personal history of colorectal cancer or polyps: if you’ve had colon cancer or noncancerous colon polyps, you have a greater risk of colon cancer in the future.
- Inflammatory intestinal conditions: chronic inflammatory disease of the colon (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease) can also increase your risk.
- Inherited syndromes: some gene mutations passed through generations of your family can increase your risk for colon cancer. This is only a small percentage of colon cancers, with the most common inherited risk being familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) and Lynch syndrome.
- Family history: you are more likely to develop colon cancer if you have a blood relative who has had the disease. If more than one family member has had colon cancer or rectal cancer, your risk is even greater.
- Low-fiber, high-fat diet: colorectal cancer may be associated with a typical Western diet, which is low in fiber and high in fat and calories. Research in this area has mixed results.
- A sedentary lifestyle: people who are inactive are more likely to develop colon cancer.
- Diabetes: those with diabetes or insulin resistance have an increased risk of colon cancer.
- Obesity: people who are obese have an increased risk of colon cancer, as well as an increased risk of dying of colon cancer.
- Smoking and heavy alcohol consumption: smoking and heavy use of alcohol can both increase your risk.
- Radiation therapy for cancer: radiation therapy directed at the abdomen to treat previous cancers increases the risk of colon cancer.
The biggest thing you can do to prevent colon cancer is to get regular screenings starting around the age of 45. However, those with an increased risk, such as those with family history, should consider screening sooner.
Other forms of prevention can be done through lifestyle changes. These changes include:
- Eating a variety of fruits, veggies, and whole grains
- Drinking alcohol in moderation, if at all
- Stopping smoking
- Exercising most days of the week
- Maintaining a healthy weight
What Happens if I’m Diagnosed with Colon Cancer?
If you have been diagnosed with colon cancer, your doctor may recommend tests to determine the extent (stage) of your cancer. This can help determine which treatments are the right ones for you. These additional tests can include abdominal, pelvic, and chest CT scans. Stages of cancer are indicated by Roman numerals, from zero to four. Stage four is considered advanced and has spread to other areas of the body.
Treatment of Colon Cancer
Treatment depends on your particular situation, including the stage and location of your cancer, as well as other health concerns. The following are treatment options for colorectal cancer:
- Surgery (for both early stage and more advanced; may include removing cancerous tissue and/or damaged tissue)
- Chemotherapy (usually given after surgery to destroy remaining cancer cells)
- Radiation therapy (can be used to kill or shrink cancerous cells)
- Targeted drug therapy (used on specific abnormalities by blocking those abnormalities, which can cause the cancer cells to die)
- Immunotherapy (a drug treatment that uses your immune system to fight cancer and is generally reserved for advanced cancer)
- Supportive palliative care (this type of care focuses on providing relief from pain and other symptoms of serious illness, as well as controlling side effects from treatment; it is known as comfort care and is not the same thing as hospice as palliative care is done alongside of life-saving treatments, whereas hospice ends life-saving treatments and focuses solely on comfort)
Home Healthcare for Colon Cancer
Many cancer treatments can be received in the comfort of your own home, depending on the capabilities of the agency you hire. Palliative care is a staple offering of most home healthcare agencies, allowing you to find relief from your symptoms and treatment without having to leave your home for palliative care treatment.
If you are in need of home healthcare services, All American would love to assist you or your loved one! We are dedicated to providing the highest quality of home health and personal care services for our community. Our expert caregivers are certified and highly trained, plus we are available around the clock for your needs. Contact us today to learn more about our customizable home health and personal care services.