Colorectal cancer, or colon cancer, is the third leading cause of cancer related deaths in the U.S. Recommended screening starting at age 50 can help detect colon cancer in its early stages. Your healthcare provider may recommend screening at an earlier age if you have a family history of colon cancer or family members with polyps. Early detection of colon cancer can greatly increase survival rates if the screened patient finds the cancer in its early local stage. If you are over the age of 50, please talk to your healthcare provider about getting screened.
Some of the more common signs or symptoms of colon cancer include:
- A change in your bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation or change in 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
Researchers have found several factors which may increase a person’s risk of getting colorectal cancer or polyps. Below are some associated risks:
- Being of African-American race or Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry
- Personal history of colorectal cancer or polyps
- Family history of colorectal cancer or polyps
- Inflammatory intestinal conditions
- Low fiber and high fat diets
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Heavy alcohol use
Regular screening is important in colon cancer, because it can prevent a polyp from becoming cancerous if caught in its early stages. Some of the screening methods look for cancer and polyps inside the colon, while other testing methods just test for the presence of cancer cells. Tests that look for polyps and cancer include sigmoidoscopies, colonoscopies, and double-contrast barium enemas. Once colon cancer has been diagnosed the patient undergoes additional tests to determine if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Colon cancer is separated into the following stages depending on the location and advancement of the cancer cells.
Stages of Colon Cancer
- Stage 0 – abnormal cells are present in the inner lining (mucosa) in the wall of the colon. This stage is also known as carcinoma in situ.
- Stage 1 – cancer has spread to the fibrous tissue beneath the muscle layer (submucosa) and may have spread to the muscles surrounding the colon
- Stage 2 – cancer has spread to the serosa, which is the outermost layer of the colon
- Stage 3 – cancer has spread to all the layers of the mucosa and nearby lymph nodes but has not spread to distant sites.
- Stage 4 – cancer has spread to other organs other than the colon, abdominal wall, or distant lymph nodes
Once the cancer is found and classified into a stage, your oncologist will discuss your treatment options. Depending on the stage, one of more of the following may be used: