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What You Need to Know About Colon Cancer
Colon cancer, also known as colorectal cancer or rectal cancer, is one of the leading causes of cancer death in the United States. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in men and women in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. It is estimated that there will be approximately 108,070 new cases of colon cancer and 41,000 new cases of rectal cancer in the United States this year. These cases will result in approximately 49,960 deaths.
Colon cancer is cancer of the large intestine (colon), which is the lower part of the digestive system; it also includes rectal cancer, which is cancer in the last 6 inches of the colon. This is where food is processed to create energy for the body. It is also where the body gets rid of solid waste. After food is ingested, it is stored in the stomach, where it breaks down. It then travels to the small intestine, where it is further broken down and nutrients are absorbed into the body. The food is then fed into the large intestine (colon), which absorbs more nutrients and water from the food and stores any waste products. The waste material then passes through the anus, which is the last 6 inches of the large intestine, before being expelled from the anus. There are several layers of tissue that line the walls of the colon and rectum. It is in these tissue layers that colorectal cancer begins. Cancer starts in the inner layer and spreads outward. So the stage of the cancer depends on how deep it extends into these layers. There is no single cause of colon cancer, almost all colon cancers usually start as small, benign groups of cells called polyps. These polyps can be large or small and, depending on the size, may produce little or no symptoms. These polyps can eventually develop into cancer.
The exact cause of colon cancer is unknown, but there are certain known factors that can increase the risk of cancer. These include: age, genetics, ethnicity, diet, exercise, smoking and diabetes. Colon cancer is dangerous because it often has no symptoms. However, the following symptoms may indicate colon cancer: Abdominal pain and tenderness, blood in the stool, change in bowel movements, bowel obstruction, unexplained weight loss, or unexplained anemia.
Due to increased and improved screening techniques, colorectal cancer cases and deaths have been declining for approximately the past 15 years. With proper screening, polyps are usually found and removed before they become cancerous. Colorectal cancer can also be found in earlier stages where it is easier to treat.
Colorectal cancer screenings are tests that look for colorectal cancer in patients who have no symptoms. These tests can detect colorectal cancers at very early stages, dramatically increasing the chances of successful treatment. Some screenings are also able to detect polyps in the colon, which can become cancerous. The two most common tests are flexible sigmoidoscopy (flex-sig) and colonoscopy. A flexible sigmoidoscopy is a flexible lighted tube about 0.5 inch thick. The tube is about 2 feet long and, when inserted rectally, allows the doctor to examine the lower half of the colon for cancer or polyps. If an adenoma polyp or colorectal cancer is found, you will need a colonoscopy to check the rest of your colon. A colonoscopy uses a longer version of the sigmoidoscope, which then allows the doctor to check the entire colon for cancer or polyps. With both tests, if polyps are found, they can be removed during the test.
There are many treatment options available for colorectal cancer. These treatments include: Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or other targeted therapies using monoclonal antibodies. Different therapies may also be combined depending on the stage of the cancer.
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