If any of these risk factors run in your family, you need to start the discussion about screening at age 40 or even earlier depending on when your family members were diagnosed. Persons with ulcerative colitis , Crohns disease or a personal history of cancer are also at increased risk for colon cancer and need to tailor regular, more frequent colonoscopies. Studies also indicate that diet and smoking may increase the risk of developing colon polyps and colon cancer. While family history and other risk factors matter, not having risk factors does not eliminate your need for screenings. What polyps tell us As we age, about 1-in-4 of us develop polyps in our colon and about 10% of these polyps eventually turn from a benign growth into colon cancer. For the most part, these polyps take about 10 years to transform into colon cancer. Polyps and early colon cancers often have no symptoms and can be detected only by screening exams. How can colon cancer best be prevented? There are several effective ways to reduce your colon cancer risk, but none more important than getting timely screenings and removing polyps before they become malignant. Refraining from smoking, maintaining healthy weight and regular exercise, managing normal body levels of nutrients, especially vitamin D also appear to lower risk factors. Diets high in fiber are good for you, but have not been definitively shown to reduce colon cancer risk. What are the symptoms of colon cancer? Symptoms usually occur once tumors are advanced and causing obstruction or if the cancer has spread beyond the colon there may be rectal bleeding, anemia, abdominal pain, a change in bowel habits (constipation or diarrhea ), unexplained weight loss, loss of appetite, recurrent fevers, unexplained nausea or vomiting, or fatigue. However, colon cancer symptoms overlap greatly with other digestive conditions.
Treating colon cancer; A healthy diet and early treatment offer defenses against disease
“However, most people have minimal signs and symptoms.” Most colon cancers are discovered through screening of patients who show no symptoms. “That’s why it’s critically important that people participate in screening programs for colon cancer,” says Holcombe. Traditional treatment Colon cancer screening is the keystone of not only early detection but prevention. “Screening allows us to find early cancer or precancerous polyps before they progress to cancer,” says Holcombe. “For many patients, we can prevent colon cancer entirely by monitoring and removing polyps.” Doctors recommend that most patients start getting screened at age 50, and then every five to 10 years. The gold standard for colon cancer screening is colonoscopy. “Colonoscopy involves taking a flexible tube with a light and camera attached that enters the large intestine through the anus,” says Holcombe. “It allows the doctor to see into the colon and look for polyps, which we can biopsy or remove to see if there are any problems.” Alternative screening methods include stool tests, virtual colonoscopy and a barium enema, but none of them can match colonoscopy for sensitivity and precision. For patients diagnosed with early-stage colon cancer, surgery removes the diseased section of colon, which is sometimes followed by chemotherapy. “The surgeon usually removes about half of the colon, on the right or left side, depending on where the tumor is,” says Holcombe. “You really only need about half a colon, so people return to normal function a colostomy bag is very rarely needed for colon cancer.” Chemotherapy is the primary treatment for later-stage colon cancer that has spread to other organs. Catching colon cancer early makes all the difference: The cure rate for early-stage cancer is almost 90%, but once the cancer has metastasized, or spread to other organs like the liver or lung, that number falls to 10%.