What is colon cancer? Colon cancer is a malignant tumor in the large intestine. The most common symptom is bloody bowel movements. This disease often starts from a benign tumor called a polyp.
Until now, the cause of this cancer has not been clearly known. However, there are some factors that are thought to increase a person’s risk of developing colon cancer, including does not like to eat fiber, rarely exercise, and smoke.
The earlier colon cancer is detected the possibility to heal will also be even greater. Therefore, people who are at risk for this disease are advised to regularly see a doctor from the age of 45 years.
Colon Cancer Causes
Colon cancer is caused by changes or gene mutations in large intestinal tissue. However, the cause of these gene mutations is not known with certainty. Although the cause is unknown, there are several lifestyles that are thought to increase a person’s risk of developing this cancer, including:
- Eating less fibrous food
- Consume too much red meat and fat
- Consuming alcoholic drinks
- Rarely exercise
In addition, there are several conditions or diseases that also make a person suffer from colon cancer, namely:
- Above 50 years old
- Having parents or siblings suffering from colon cancer
- Suffered from intestinal polyps
- Overweight or obese
- Suffering from diabetes
- Suffering from intestinal inflammation
- Have undergone radiotherapy in the abdomen
- Suffer from a genetic disorder called familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or Lynch syndrome
Colon Cancer Symptoms
The symptoms at an early stage sometimes not felt or even not appear at all. However, there are some symptoms that can appear in early-stage colon cancer, namely:
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Cramps or abdominal pain
- Change the shape and color of the stool
- Bloody bowel movements
If you have entered an advanced stage, the patients with this cancer can experience symptoms such as:
- Often receive incomplete bowel movements
- Changes in the form of stool that occur more than a month
- Drastic weight loss
If colon cancer has spread to other parts of the body, symptoms can occur in the form of:
- Blurred vision
- Swelling of the arms and legs
- Hard to breathe
When should we go to the doctor?
As said before, colon cancer sufferers at first may feel no symptoms at all. Therefore from the age of 45, you are recommended to consult a doctor to assess your risk of developing this disease, as well as carry out routine screening according to the doctor’s advice.
You should also see a doctor if you feel complaints that may be symptoms of colon cancer, such as:
- Having diarrhea or constipation over and over
- Experience changes in the shape and color of the stool
- Often receive incomplete bowel movements
- Bloody bowel movements
Colon Cancer Diagnosis
To find out if a patient has colon cancer, the doctor will ask the patient’s symptoms. The doctor will also ask if the patient has a disease that can increase the risk of this cancer and trace the patient’s family health history. After that, the doctor will conduct a physical examination and supporting examinations, such as:
Endoscopy is performed by a gastroenterologist to see the condition of the large intestine using a special tool. The tool is in the form of a flexible tube with a camera at the end which is inserted through the anus. An examination with this tool is called a colonoscopy.
Besides the flexible hose, there is also an endoscope with a media capsule. The capsules have to be swallowed by the patient to see the entire digestive tract.
2. Intestinal Biopsy
Biopsy is an examination by taking a sample of intestinal tissue to be examined under a microscope. This is to see the presence or absence of malignant cells (cancer). Biopsy can be done during a colonoscopy examination or during surgery on the stomach to remove part of the large intestine.
To find out how far cancer has spread as well as to assess the function of other organs and the success of treatment, the doctor will conduct an examination:
- X-Ray. X-rays are taken to see the condition of the large intestine. For clearer results, patients will be asked to take a special (contrast) dye solution first.
- CT Scan. CT scan is performed to see the condition of the large intestine and the surrounding tissue in more detail.
- Blood Test. Blood tests can provide information about the function of various organs before the oncologist performs treatment, for example, the number of blood cells, liver function, and kidney function. The doctor can also do an examination called CEA to assess the response to treatment.
Doctors recommend that people who are at high risk of colon cancer to undergo regular colon cancer screening. The goal is that if cancer appears, it can be treated immediately.
3. Colon Cancer Screening
Colon cancer screening is recommended for men and women aged 45 years and over. Some recommended checks are:
- Stool examination every 1 year
- Colonoscopy every 10 years
- CT scan of the stomach every 5 years
The examination can detect the presence of blood in the stool or polyps in the intestine that can develop into colon cancer. Discuss with your doctor about the benefits and risks of each examination.
Colon Cancer Stages
Based on the severity, colon cancer is divided into several stages, namely:
- Stage 1. At this stage, cancer only grows in the large intestine.
- Stage 2. At this stage, cancer has penetrated the walls of the large intestine.
- Stage 3. At this stage, cancer has spread to lymph nodes which are located close to the large intestine.
- Stage 4. This stage is the most severe stage where cancer has spread far and attacks other organs of the body such as the lungs or liver.
The stage will be determined after the doctor examines the patient. Determination of this stage helps the doctor to plan the right treatment.
Colon Cancer Treatment
The treatment of colon cancer is done according to the stage or the severity of cancer. Some types of treatment are:
Surgery is performed to remove cancerous tissue in the large intestine. The type of surgery performed depends on the severity and spread of cancer. In surgery, the part of the large intestine that has cancer along with a little healthy tissue around it will be cut and removed.
After that, the base of the large intestine will be connected to the rest of the large intestine that goes to the anus or directly connected to an artificial opening in the abdominal wall as a discharge stool.
This hole is called a stoma and made through colostomy surgery. Besides cutting the large intestine, surgery can also be done to remove lymph nodes that have been eaten away by cancer.
Chemotherapy is a way to kill cancer cells through the administration of drugs in a number of cycles that arranged by an oncologist. Some examples of colon cancer drugs are oxaliplatin and irinotecan.
Radiotherapy is done to kill cancer cells using radiation beams. These rays can be emitted from devices outside the body (external radiotherapy) or from devices installed near the location of cancer (internal radiotherapy).
4. Targeted Drug Therapy
In contrast to chemotherapy that attacks cancer cells as well as healthy cells, this drug works by specifically killing cancer cells. Targeted drug therapy can be given singly or in combination with other treatment methods. Some medications that are used include:
In general, patients who have this disease and have been diagnosed from an early stage have a higher cure rate than patients who have been diagnosed in the later stages.
Patients who have been cured of colon cancer still have a risk of getting cancer again. To ensure that this cancer does not reappear, the doctor will schedule patient control at regular intervals.
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Colon Cancer Prevention
Colon cancer can be prevented by adopting a healthy lifestyle. Some ways that can be done to reduce the risk of this disease are:
- Exercise regularly
- Eat foods that are rich in fiber, such as fruits
- Maintain ideal body weight
- Quit smoking
- Reduce or avoid alcoholic drinks
In addition, for colon cancer to be detected as early as possible, examination through screening also needs to be done. This examination method is highly recommended, especially for people who have a family with a history of colon cancer, as well as people aged 50 years and over.