Colon cancer, also known as bowel cancer or colorectal cancer is the cancer of a part of the large intestine which is an essential digestive organ in the human body. In order to be clear and concise, here is what happens to the colon when it is diagnosed with cancer; the polyps are formed (abnormal growth of muscle tissue) and these polyps when turn malignant, are the sources of the spread of cancer in the area.
A healthy body, however has a strong immune system, thus is at a lesser risk of colon cancer. However that doesn’t eliminate the risks completely. A family history of colon cancer or excessive use of alcohol and cigarettes, personal history of colon cancer (or any other type of cancer such as breast cancer, rectum cancer etc), ulcerative colitis and polyps could be some of the major risk factors for cancer.
It is also important to know that if you or anyone from family or friends experience any of the symptoms of colon cancer such as abnormal bowel movement, diarrhea or constant constipation, sudden and unplanned weight loss, nausea, frequent bloating, blood in stool etc; do not delay medical examination so that if there is any evidence of colon cancer it could be treated.
It should be noted that the treatment of colon cancer is easier in the initial stages of the diseases, as the tumor advances and spreads to other parts of the body and diseases the adjacent organs such as lungs and liver, it gets more complicated to treat it for complete cure.
Tests for Colon Cancer
The medical tests that determine the presence of colon cancer are as follows:
1. Study of History of Patient
The medical practitioner takes into account the medical history of the patient in order to look for any traces of cancerous developments or that of polyps diagnosed earlier. Also, this helps in understanding the health habits and history of any previously treated tumors and cancers.
2. The Physical Exam
The physical medical examination is the first thing which is conducted along with the study of patient’s history, so to examine for the signs and symptoms of the colon cancer. The exam of the body is conducted to check overall health, signs of colon cancer such as lumps and any other abnormalities are closely examined.
3. Rectal Examination
A rectal examination is done to look for any abnormal growth or lumps in the rectum, for this the doctor or the nurse insert a lubricated and gloved finger into the rectum of the patient. In case of any suspicious growth, an action would be taken for further tests.
4. Stool Test
The fecal blood test is conducted by drawing a sample of the stool to check for the presence of blood which could only be apparent to the naked eye with the help of a microscope and thus the diseased could be tested for its intensity and prevalence.
In this treatment procedure, the doctor removes cells or tissues from the colon and then the samples are studied by a pathologist using microscope to test for the cancerous developments.
This technique uses a sigmoidoscope which is a tubular instrument that is inserted into the rectum; which also has light and lens that looks for polyps and cancer formation and spread of the disease in the large intestine.
7. X Rays
A series of X rays are conducted for the lower gastrointestinal tract to look for the signs of abnormal growth and polyps containing colon cancerous cells. A barium compound in liquid form is put into rectum to make the insides visible in the x-ray.
Colonoscopy is also similar to sigmoidoscopy, as it helps see the insides of the rectum and colon with the help of inserted tube. But the difference is, colonoscopy also has a tool attached to it which helps in the removal of polyps and tissue samples for testing, along with the lens for viewing the insides.
If you’re wondering what measures should be taken by you or anyone you know who has the symptoms of colon cancer, it is advised to visit the doctor so that he/she may prescribe the tests depending the condition diagnosed. One thing to keep in mind is, the treatment for colon cancer greatly depends on the stage of the cancer. The general health of the patient, along with the time interval within which the cancer has recurred is important pieces of information that determine the type of treatment suitable for a colorectal cancer patient.
Treatment of Colon Cancer
The test results are in the hands of your medical practitioner, and that would have given the clear picture of the stage of colon cancer on has. Luckily if it is an early stage that has been diagnosed, the treatment is less complicated and less time consuming as well as compared to the treatment of advanced stages of cancer.
Treatment of Stage 0 Colon Cancer
Since it is the most benign stage of colon cancer, it is treated by the removal of polyps (Polypectomy) which are cancerous. Colonoscopy’s help could be taken to perform local excision and if the tumor is large in size the part of the colon is also removed. Partial Colectomy is the procedure of removal of the affected part of colon which is removed since it is bigger in size and cannot be removed by local excision.
Treatment of Stage 1 Colon Cancer
The stage 1 of the colon cancer is marked by the colon cancer spreading in the lining of the colon but not outside the colon wall and neither it has affected the lymph nodes.
If the polyps are removed completely (Colonoscopy) and there is no trace of cancer prevalent in the colon, no further treatment would be needed. However, if more cancerous cells are detected at the edges of polyps, a detailed surgery could be needed for the removal of it. Partial Colectomy is a common practice for stage 1 cancer which prevents the need of further cancer treatments.
Treatment of Stage 2 Colon Cancer
The second stage of colon cancer is where the tumor has spread through the wall of colon and nearby tissues may have caught the disease. However, the lymph nodes are still safe from colon cancer.
The common treatment is surgical excision of a part of the colon (partial colectomy), and the medical practitioner might as well suggest chemotherapy after the surgery if there is a chance that the cancer might recur. There could be several reasons why you would be advised chemotherapy post surgery, such as the cancer might look abnormally large, the nearby blood vessels and lymph nodes have started to be affected by the cancer, or that the surgeon did not remove at least 12 of the nearby lymph nodes.
Also, if there is a trace of cancer found lurking behind after the surgery, there could be a dire need of chemotherapy. The cancer that has blocked off colon and impeded its functioning or the one that has caused a hole in the wall of the colon has to be treated with the help of chemotherapy after the surgery. Radiation therapy may be advised by the doctor to kill the disease that remains after the surgery has been conducted.
Treatment of Stage 3 Colon Cancer
The only good thing about this stage of cancer that could give much hope to the doctor and the patient is that the cancer has not yet spread to the nearby organs. However, it is of a much advanced stage and the nearby lymph nodes are by now the carriers of the cancerous cells.
The standard treatment includes the surgical treatment, removal of colon and lymph nodes (Partial Colectomy) and it is often followed by chemotherapy to avoid the risk of the disease recurring in the future. However, the chemo dosage could be adjusted according to the health condition and the age of the patient. Radiation could also be advised by the doctor, and for people who are too feeble for a surgery may be left with only the option of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Treatment of Stage 4 Colon Cancer
The stage 4 of colon cancer is the deadliest of all since the disease has spread to the adjacent organs and the treatment gets more complex as the tumor advances.
Surgery is an option but also the other organs which are affected by the cancer are to be treated by surgery if there are small portions of the disease present in the lungs, distant lymph nodes or the lining of abdomen.
Sometimes the metastases are too large to be removed completely, in such cases chemotherapy prior to surgery is advised. This helps the tumor to shrink to a size which is easily removable by surgery. The surgery would again be followed by chemotherapy. If the tumor reaches the liver, the option to destroy the disease would be embolization.
If the colon is blocked by the cancerous growth, a stent could be inserted by colonoscopy to keep it open. It is a plastic or a metal tube inserted in the colon to help the passage of waste material.
It is highly important to understand the goal of surgery and to discuss with your doctor whatever treatment you’d be getting, what medicines would be sued in the chemotherapy and if it would be helpful to prevent the symptoms of the disease.
(RELATED: Colon Cancer: learn everything from causes to symptoms to treatments)
What if the Cancer Recurs?
Often, in case of recurrence, the cancer gets even more complicated and difficult to treat.
It could be the case that the cancer may recur in the same area as it had the last time it was treated or it could appear in any other organ(s).
The Local Recurrence of Cancer
The local recurrence of colon cancer would be its resurfacing in the colorectal region. This would happen after the surgery has been done for the removal of colon cancer. Often this happens when there are some of the cancer cells prevalent in the organ where the cancer had occurred and the surgery or chemotherapy could not completely remove it. To cure this, chemotherapy is the usual practice to shrink the tumor so that the surgery could be conducted to remove it. Surgery is also an option in some cases if the tumor is diagnosed at a benign stage and chemotherapy could shrink it to a harmless state. In case of surgery, it would be followed by chemo after that as well.
The Distant Recurrence of Cancer
The distant recurrence of cancer is often unexpected since the organ which previously was a victim of cancer would be alright after the removal of the tumor, but some other distant organ would be affected by it.
The colon cancer is most likely to reappear in liver and for that surgery would be an option for the removal of it. However, chemotherapy is kept as an option before surgery. Embolization and ablation are also two of the options for the removal of tumor from liver.
Targeted therapies are an option when the tumor is too large to be removed, chemo along with some other targeted therapies would be an option to exercise. The medicines given to the patient in the earlier episode of cancer would be examined and then decisions would be made on the dosages. Radiation therapy is often an option for the removal of the symptoms of cancer in the distant organs after the cancer has been once treated in the colon.
For some patients, radiation therapy could be something really difficult to manage. It is highly important to get regular checkups after you are cancer free so that if there is any occurrence of the disease in the local region or a distant organ, again; the doctors could immediately take an action on the recurrence so it doesn’t advances beyond treatability.