In cancer of the colon there is an uncontrollable growth of tumor cells in the lining of the large intestines or bowels.
The cancer may spread to the walls of the intestines, adjacent structures and to other organs.
There are about 100,000 new cases of colon cancer in the USA each year and about 60,000 deaths. Worldwide there are about 600,000 deaths. The disease affects both women and men.
Risk factors and causes- Cancer of the colon is commoner in industrialized countries where meat consumption is high. Risk factors include:
- Age over 50
- History of colon cancer in the family
- Diet high in saturated fat
- Alcohol consumption
- Low fibre diet
- Inflammatory conditions
Signs and symptoms are usually evident when the tumor gets to a certain size. They are often related to the presence of the tumor mass in the area. They are:
- Change in bowels habits
- Blood in the faeces
- Abdominal distension
- Chronic fatigue
- Weight loss
Prevention of colon cancer
Consumption of red meat seems to contribute to the higher incidence of colon cancer in industrialized countries. Developing a healthy eating pattern is therefore an important preventive action. Other preventive measures include:
- Regular screening for those at risk
- Keeping physically active
- Avoiding tobacco
- Keeping weight within limits
- Controlling alcohol consumption
- A high fibre diet
Surgery-This is the removal of the section of the colon affected, along with the blood supply and lymph nodes. Following this resection either an anastomosis or a colostomy would be performed
Anastomosis- In this procedure the ends of the remaining colon are joined together by a re-constructive procedure.
Colostomy- If the re-constructive procedure is not possible or is too risky, a colostomy is performed. This involves bringing the end of the remaining colon through the abdomen and sewing it to the skin. A stoma is created through which faeces is excreted. This may be temporary or permanent.
Radiation-Radiation is used following surgery to remove the tumor cells not removed by resection or when there is metastases.
Chemotherapy-This is the use of anti-cancer drugs. Chemotherapy is used when there is a risk that the tumor will return. It is also used for stage 4 cancers when surgery is not possible.
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