Colon cancer symptoms may not be present in many cases. However, if symptoms are seen they can include a variety of changes in the stool or bowel habits (i.e. diarrhea, constipation). Colon cancer also known as Colorectal Cancer, is a malignant (cancerous) tumor growth found in a portion of the large intestine, which is a common cancer site.
Colon Cancer Symptoms And Causes
In many cases of colon cancer no symptoms will be apparent in the early stages of the disease. Later symptoms may develop such as:
- Bloody or black, tarry stools
- Abdominal pain or cramps
- Diarrhea or constipation or narrow stool
- Unexplained weight loss
Most cases begin as benign (non-cancerous) polyps, which slowly become cancerous. The cause of colon (or colorectal) cancer is not well understood but risk factors include being over the age of 60, eating a diet low in fiber and high in fat and red meat, being of African American or eastern European descent, a prior diagnosis of cancer elsewhere in the body or colorectal polyps, the presence of an inflammatory bowel disease (i.e. Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis), a family history of colon cancer, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol.
Colon cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in the United States. However, a complete cure is often possible with an early diagnosis.
Colon Cancer Diagnosis And Treatment
Observation of the aforementioned symptoms may lead to a diagnosis but many times the condition is detected through a routine physical exam. Early detection kits may be available for those at high risk, which can detect blood in the stool (available at most pharmacies).
If symptoms have appeared, a physical examination, sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, or barium x-rays of the large intestine may be performed to make a definitive diagnosis. Blood tests may be taken to check for anemia and a fecal occult blood test (FOBT) may be ordered to detect small amounts of blood in the stool, which could indicate colon cancer.
Treatment will depend on how much the cancer has progressed and if it has spread to other areas of the body. Surgery to remove the cancer cells is often performed. Surgery may result in a need for a colostomy, which is a diversion of the bowel through an opening in the abdominal wall. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be prescribed as well to destroy cancerous tissues.
Prognosis improves with early detection and treatment.