Dr. Xavier Salazar Vintimilla
Colon cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the large intestine (colon). The colon is the final part of the digestive tube.
Colon and rectal cancer occurs in older adults, although it can occur at any age. It usually begins as small, noncancerous (benign) polyps of cells that form inside the colon. Over time, some of these polyps can develop into colon cancer.
Polyps may cause few or no symptoms. For this reason, regular screening tests are recommended to help prevent colon cancer by identifying and removing polyps before they turn into cancer.
If colon cancer develops, there are many treatments available to control it, including surgery, radiation therapy, and drug treatments such as chemotherapy.
Signs and symptoms of colon cancer include the following:
- A change in bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation, or a change in the consistency of your stool
- Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool
- Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas, or pain
- A feeling that the intestine is not emptying completely
- weakness or fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
Many people with colon cancer do not experience symptoms in the early stages of the disease. When symptoms do appear, they are likely to vary, depending on the size of the cancer and its location in the large intestine.
When to consult the doctor
If you notice any persistent symptoms that worry you, see your doctor.
Talk to your doctor about when to start colon cancer screening. Guidelines generally recommend that colon cancer screening begin around age 50. Your doctor may recommend more frequent or earlier screening if you have other risk factors, such as a family history of the disease.
It is not known exactly what causes most colon cancers. Healthy cells grow and divide in an orderly way to maintain normal body function. But when a cell's DNA becomes damaged and becomes cancerous, cells continue to divide, even when they don't need new cells. As the cells accumulate, they form a tumor.
Over time, cancer cells can grow to invade and destroy nearby normal tissue. And cancer cells can travel to other parts of the body to form deposits there (metastasis).
Factors that can increase the risk of colon cancer include the following:
- Age Colon cancer can be diagnosed at any age, but most people with colon cancer are older than 50 years. Colon cancer rates in people younger than 50 have been rising, but doctors aren't sure why.
- Race African Americans have a higher risk of colon cancer than people of other races.
- Personal history of colorectal cancer or polyps. If you have already had colon cancer or non-cancerous polyps in the colon, you have a higher risk of developing colon cancer in the future.
- Inflammatory bowel conditions. Chronic inflammatory diseases of the colon, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, can increase the risk of colon cancer.
- Hereditary syndromes that increase the risk of colon cancer. Some genetic mutations passed down through the generations of your family can significantly increase your risk of colon cancer. Only a small percentage of colon cancer cases are related to inherited genes. The most common inherited syndromes that increase the risk of colon cancer are familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) and Lynch syndrome, also known as hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC).
- Family history of colon cancer. You are more likely to develop colon cancer if you have a blood relative who has had it. If more than one family member has colon or rectal cancer, your risk is even higher.
- Low-Fiber, High-Fiber Diet Colon cancer and rectal cancer may be associated with a typical Western diet, which is low in fiber and high in fat and calories. Research in this area has had mixed results. Some studies have found an increased risk of colon cancer in people whose diets are high in red meat and processed meat.
- A sedentary lifestyle. Inactive people are more likely to develop cancer Doing regular physical activity can reduce the risk of colon cancer.
- People with diabetes or insulin resistance are at increased risk of colon cancer.
- Obese people have a higher risk of colon cancer and a higher risk of dying from colon cancer compared to people considered normal weight.
- People who smoke may be at increased risk of colon cancer.
- Excessive alcohol consumption increases the risk of colon cancer.
- Cancer radiotherapy. Radiation therapy to the abdomen to treat previous cancers increases the risk of colon cancer.
Colon Cancer Screening
Doctors recommend that people at average risk for colon cancer consider colon cancer screening around age 50. But people at higher risk, such as those with a family history of colon cancer, should consider getting screened sooner.
Lifestyle changes to reduce colon cancer risk
You can take steps to reduce your risk of colon cancer by making changes in your daily life. Take the following steps:
- Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains contain vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants, all of which may play a role in cancer prevention. Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables, so that you incorporate various vitamins and nutrients.
- If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. If you choose to drink alcohol, limit the amount you drink to no more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.
- Quit Talk to your doctor about ways to quit that might work for you.
- Exercise almost every day of the week. Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise most days. If you've been inactive, start slowly and gradually increase your pace to 30. Also, check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.
- Maintain a healthy weight. If you're currently at a healthy weight, work to maintain it with a combination of a healthy diet and daily physical activity. If you need to lose weight, ask your doctor about healthy ways to achieve your goal. Try to lose weight slowly by increasing the amount of physical activity you get and reducing the number of calories you eat.