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Colon Cancer – Everything For the Layman
Colon cancer is cancer of the large intestine, the lower part of the digestive system. It is the second most common cancer in the United States, with an equal distribution between men and women. It usually affects people over the age of 40, and most people diagnosed with the disease are over the age of 60. The disorder can affect any race or ethnicity; however, some research suggests that Northern European Americans are at a higher-than-average risk.
Colon cancer is more common in industrialized countries and societies where red meat is a major part of the diet, although there is evidence that changing the diet to white meat and seafood alone, such as in Japan, tends to only replace stomach cancer for colon cancer. In almost all cases, it is a treatable disease if caught early.
signs and symptoms
Colon cancer usually begins with the growth of benign growths such as polyps. Usually there are no early symptoms. If signs and symptoms of a colon tumor do occur, they may include: changes in bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation, or a change in the consistency of stools for more than a few weeks, rectal bleeding or blood in the stool, persistent abdominal discomfort such as cramping, gas, or pain, Abdominal pain with bowel movements, feeling that the bowel is not completely empty, weakness or fatigue, and unexplained weight loss.
The exact cause is unknown, but appears to be influenced by genetic and environmental factors. Studies have shown that populations are concentrated in areas of higher economic development, suggesting a link to diet, especially excess animal fat and low fiber content. Other factors that increase the risk of CC include: being over age 40, having other gastrointestinal disorders, family history, and ulcerative colitis.
Early or multisite colon cancer or the development of recurrent cancers suggests a genetically transmitted form of the disease rather than a sporadic form. People who smoke also have a slightly increased risk of colon cancer.
The most common type of cancer cell is adenocarcinoma, accounting for 95% of cases.
The development of colon polyps usually precedes the development of tumors by five years or more. The American Gastroenterological Association revised its screening guidelines in 2003, recommending that people who have had two or more first-degree relatives with colorectal cancer or who had colon or rectal cancer before age 60 should Screening colonoscopy at age 40 or 10 years before the age of the earlier diagnosis in the family (whichever comes first). Those who have one first-degree relative diagnosed with colon cancer after age 60, or two second-degree relatives with colon or rectal cancer, should start screening at age 40 using one of the methods above, such as Annual sigmoidoscopy. The most common screening tests are colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, and fecal occult blood test.
CT scans and barium enemas are also routinely used to diagnose colon and rectal cancer.
Almost all cancers are treated first with surgery, regardless of stage. The cancer, adjacent tissue, and any lymph nodes that may contain cancer cells are removed.
Chemotherapy after surgery is usually given only if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes (stage III). Radiation therapy can also be used to induce tumor regression. As with other cancer treatments, the incidence of side effects varies depending on the patient’s health and the exact nature of the treatment.
There is no absolute way to prevent colon cancer. Still, there are steps individuals can take to significantly reduce their risk or to identify precursors to cancer before it manifests itself. People over the age of 50, and anyone with a family history of colon cancer, should discuss with their doctor the latest screening recommendations from doctors and cancer organizations. They should watch for symptoms and attend all recommended screenings to increase the likelihood of early detection of cancer. Exercise is thought to reduce the risk of colon cancer. Apparently, there was no association between bowel frequency or laxative use and disease risk.
Prognosis depends on the stage of the tumor and the patient’s overall health. If diagnosed early, before the tumor has spread from the gut, these treatments are very effective, with about 90 percent of patients alive five years after diagnosis. Colon cancer is considered cured if it does not recur (come back) within 5 years. The prognosis of patients with liver and lung metastases is poor.
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