Colon cancer is cancer of the large intestine (colon), the lower part of your digestive system. Rectal cancer is cancer of the last several inches of the colon. Together, they are often referred to as colorectal cancers. Most cases of colon cancer begin as small, non-cancerous (benign) clumps of cells called adenomatous polyps. Over time some of these polyps become colon cancers. Polyps may be small and produce few, if any, symptoms. For this reason, doctors recommend regular screening tests to help prevent colon cancer by identifying polyps before they become colon cancer.
In many cases it is not clear what causes colon cancer. Some of the leading contributors are believed to be age (50 or older), alcohol consumption, diabetes, diet high in fat, medical history and more.Doctors know that colon cancer occurs when healthy cells in the colon become altered. Healthy cells grow and divide in an orderly way to keep your body functioning normally. But sometimes this growth gets our of control – cells continue dividing even when new cells aren’t needed. In the colon and rectum, this exaggerated growth may cause pre-cancerous cells to form in the lining of your intestine. Over a long period of time – spanning up to several years – some of these areas of abnormal cells may become cancerous.Colon cancer most often begins as clumps of pre-cancerous cells (polyps) on the inside lining of the colon. Polyps can appear mushroom-shaped. Pre-cancerous growths can also be flat or recessed into the wall of the colon (nonpolypoid lesions). Removing polyps and nonpolypoid lesions before they become cancerous can help prevent colon cancer.
Signs and symptoms of colon cancer include:
- a change in your bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation or a change in the consistency of your stool
- rectal bleeding or blood in your stool
- persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain
- a feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely
- weakness or fatigue
- unexplained weight loss
Many people with colon cancer experience no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. When symptoms appear, they’ll likely vary, depending on the cancer’s size and location in your large intestine.If you notice any symptoms of colon cancer, such as blood in your stool or a persistent change in bowel habits, make an appointment with your doctor immediately.
Preventative screening is the most effective diagnostic for colon cancer. Talk to one of our board certified physicians about when you should begin screening for colon cancer. Guidelines generally recommend colon cancer screening begin at age 50. Your physician may recommend more frequent or earlier screening if you have other risk factors, such as family history of the disease. Imaging tests to screen for and potentially diagnose colorectal cancer include:
Only High Definition Colonoscopy can see the entire colon, and this is the best screening test for colon cancer. This screening can be performed at our Premier Endoscopy Center located on the second floor of our office building. Blood tests may also be taken to check for anemia as well as liver function tests.With proper screening, colon cancer can be detected before symptoms develop, when it is most curable. Contact one of our board certified physicians for a screening if you are age 50 or older and have not yet had a colonoscopy.