Colon cancer is a subset of colorectal cancers. Colorectal cancers consist of colon cancer, bowel cancer, and rectal cancer. These cancer types affect the mucous membrane of the lower gastrointestinal tract and rectum through a malignant tumor or polyp. Tumors composed of cancer cells can metastasize or spread to other parts of the body, impeding organ function.
Individuals will have different sources for their cancers. However, we do know that there are consistent risk factors that can lead to colon cancer. Those factors include obesity, advanced age, chronic intestinal disease, and a low-fiber diet. Tobacco and alcohol consumption is also associated with an increased risk of colon cancer.
Colon cancer has favorable survival rates if found in Stage I through colorectal cancer screening. Early colorectal cancer has a 91% survival rate. For Stage II, Stage III, and Stage IV, the survival rate drops to a 5-year survival rate of 14% for later-stage colon and rectal cancer.
Some common early signs of colon cancer include persistent changes to your bowel movements, the frequent presence of blood in the stool, and ongoing pain or cramping in the abdomen. These signs don’t always indicate colon cancer, meaning these symptoms should encourage conversations with healthcare professionals to verify the symptoms’ source.
The risks of colon cancer are related to the function of the bowel and related organs. An increased incidence of pain and rectal bleeding related to untreated colon cancer. Cancerous growths can also cause a decreased ability to absorb nutrients from food or intestinal blockage.
Who Gets It
Anyone can get colon cancer. The biggest factors contributing to the development of colon cancer are a family history of the disease and similar genetic factors.
Some of the largest non-genetic risk factors for colon cancer include:
- Being overweight or obese, especially when related to a lack of frequent exercise
- Diets high in red and/or processed meats
- Low levels of vitamin D in the blood
- Smoking and tobacco use
- Previous diagnosis of gastrointestinal disease
How to Prevent
What Research Says
Research provides answers to many of the questions surrounding colorectal cancers.
First are the symptoms of colorectal cancers. While some of these symptoms can also indicate other issues, these are the things to look out for:
- A persistent change in bowel habits such as diarrhea or constipation
- Blood in your stool
- Persistent cramping or pain in the abdomen
- Weakness or fatigue
- Unexplainable weight loss
The causes of colon cancers tend to be unrelated to genetics. Roughly 95% of colon cancers relate to lifestyle choices or as a complication from other intestinal diseases.
Despite genetics not playing a large factor in colon cancer diagnosis, some known risk factors cause an increased risk of colorectal cancers:
- Older age
- Presence of benign, precancerous polyps
- Presence of inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis
- A sedentary lifestyle and/or poor diet
- Tobacco and alcohol use
To prevent advanced colon cancer, these tips are what doctors recommend:
- Participate in frequent colorectal screenings, including colonoscopies for those of older age or those with previous colorectal disease
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle with frequent exercise
- Eat a balanced diet high in vitamins and minerals
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Tests & Diagnosis
How is it given?
Participating in a regular colon cancer screening will be the main way a healthcare professional discovers colon cancer in your body. These procedures break down into two main categories:
- Stool-based tests: Tests performed on the patients’ stool can return high results for colon cancer markers, the protein signals of a cancerous polyp in the colon.
- Visual/structural exams: Visual inspection of the rectum and colon can look for abnormalities and allow doctors to take a polyp biopsy to check for cancer.