Colon cancer affects millions of people worldwide. It’s the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women. In 2016, more than 50,000 patients will die from it. Also referred to as colorectal cancer, it occurs in about five percent of the U.S. population, and accounts for over 10 percent of all cancer deaths in America. For most people, colon cancer surgery is the only option.
What Is Colon Cancer?
Each year, about 130,000 Americans are diagnosed with colon cancer. This deadly disease occurs in the colon or rectum. Most times, it begins as small, benign clumps of cells that produce no symptoms. If left untreated, they begin to grow out of control and spread to various areas of the body. For this reason, it’s recommended to undergo regular screening tests, especially after age 50.
Several lifestyle factors have been linked to this disease. Research shows that poor nutrition, physical inactivity, smoking, heavy alcohol consumption, and obesity may increases the risk of colon cancer. People with a history of colorectal polyps, inflammatory bowel diseases, or adenomatous polyps are more likely to develop this condition. A diet that is high in processed and red meats can raise cancer risk too.
Most patients suffering from colon cancer experience rectal bleeding, changes in bowel habits, fatigue, and unexplained weight loss. Severe abdominal pain and blood in the stool are common symptoms. This form of cancer is typically diagnosed by CT scans, PET scans, MRI scans, stool tests, or colonoscopy.
Treatment Options for Colon Cancer
Treatment depends on the stage and location of the tumor, and can be aimed at cure or palliation. In general, doctors recommend a combination of colon cancer surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Surgery is the best option for stage I and stage II colon cancer. Chemotherapy works best for patients diagnosed with stage III and stage IV cancer. If the tumor is diagnosed too late, the patient will require palliative care. The doctor may recommend chemotherapy or radiotherapy to shrink the tumor before surgery.
Colon cancer surgery can involve a polypectomy, a colectomy, or a partial hepatectomy. Its role is to diagnose, stage, and treat cancer. The surgeon will remove the part of the colon affected by cancer, and then join the ends of the colon back together. In severe cases, the entire colon may be removed. Patients who undergo surgery are usually required to wear an ileostomy or colostomy bag, which can be temporary or permanent.