Colon cancer also called colorectal cancer (CRC) or bowel cancer/rectal cancer, is a cancer of the colon or rectum – which are parts of the large intestine. The large intestine is also known as the colon.
The World Health Organization ranks colon cancer as the second most common cancer affecting both men and women, after lung cancer. Men are at risk at a younger age.
Colon cancer develops in stages:
Stage 0 – The earliest stage, called carcinoma in situ, when the cancer is still within the mucosa or inner layer of the colon or rectum.
Stage 1 – Cancer penetrates the inner layer of the colon or rectum but not yet spread beyond.
Stage 2 – Cancer has started spreading but not yet reached the nearby lymph nodes.
Stage 3 – Lymph nodes affected.
Stage 4 – Cancer spreads to other parts of the body, including liver, lung, and ovaries.
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Erratic bowel habits, including the feeling of the bowel not fully emptied
- Blood in faeces that turns stools into a black colour
- Rectal bleeding
- A painful or bloated abdomen
- A bloated feeling of fullness, long past a meal
- Weight loss without intending to lose weight
- Fatigue or tiredness
- Lump in the abdomen
- Iron deficiency in men or women after menopause
Consult a doctor if any of the above symptoms persist for three weeks. Diagnosis occurs at an advanced stage in about 40% of colon cancer cases, having surgery done is the best option.
Screening can detect colon cancer in its early stages, greatly boosting the chances of a cure.
Common screening and diagnostic procedures for colorectal cancer include blood stool test, Stool DNA test, Flexible sigmoidoscopy, Barium enema X-ray, Colonoscopy, CT colonography, and Imaging scans.
The oncologist will decide on the treatment based on many factors including the severity of cancer and the patient’s medical history and the current state of health. Treatment options include chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and surgery. Surgery is the most common treatment. If the cancer is detected early surgery may be successful. Even if not fully successful, surgery will ease the symptoms.
A complete cure depends on how early the cancer is detected and treated.
Risk factors for developing colon cancer:
- A diet overloaded with saturated fat, calories, animal protein – particularly red meat
- Diet lacking fibre
- Alcohol consumption
- Having earlier had breast, ovary or uterine cancer
- A family member with colon cancer
- Having irritable bowel disease
- Obesity and lack of exercise
Regular screenings – More so for those earlier having had colorectal cancer, or are over 50 years of age, have a family history of colon cancer, or have Crohn’s disease (irritable bowel syndrome).
High fibre diet – Eat plenty of fruit, vegetables, sufficient carbohydrates and a minimum of red and processed meats. Avoid saturated fats.
Exercise – Regular exercise significantly lowers the risk of colon cancer.