Colon cancer (also referred to as colorectal cancer) is very common, yet it is one of the most preventable types of cancer. It is often curable when detected early.
What is colon cancer?
Colon cancer is a cancer that starts in the colon (large intestine) or rectum (the end part of the large intestine leading to the anus). Most cases of colorectal cancer begin as small, noncancerous (benign) cluster of cells called polyps. Over time, some of these polyps can become cancers.
Who is at risk of developing colon cancer?
One major risk factor is aging. The great majority of people diagnosed with colon cancer are older than 50. Colon cancer can occur in younger people, but much less frequently.
Other risk factors include personal history of colon cancer or polyps, family history of colon cancer (especially in a first-degree relative), inflammatory intestinal conditions (Ulcerative colitis, Crohn disease) and some genetic syndromes.
What are the symptoms?
In early stages, there are generally no symptoms.
In more advanced stages, symptoms may include blood in the stool, abdominal pain, change in bowel habits (diarrhea or constipation), or change in the shape or size of the stools.
Can colon cancer be prevented?
Yes, colon cancer can be prevented by detecting and removing precancerous polyps. Polyps are benign wart-like growths that grow on the inner lining of the colon or rectum and can, if not removed, become cancerous.
How can we prevent colon cancer?
Screening tests can find polyps so they can be removed before they turn into cancer. The development of more than 75% to 90% of colorectal cancer can be avoided through early detection and removal of pre-cancerous polyps.
What are the screening options?
Colonoscopy is the preferred test to screen for colorectal cancer. Other tests such as checking for blood in the stool (FIT test) and imaging studies of the colon are also options for screening.
What is a colonoscopy?
Colonoscopy is a procedure which enables a physician to directly image and examine the entire colon through a colonoscope. A colonoscope is a flexible and steerable instrument (tube) used to evaluate the entire colon (large intestine).
What is the advantage of colonoscopy over other available tests?
A key advantage of this technique is that it allows both detection of abnormal findings and also therapy or removal of these abnormalities during the same examination. This procedure is particularly helpful for identification and removal of precancerous polyps.
Tests that detect blood in the stools like FIT test will only be able to detect polyps or lesions that are bleeding and when positive, require follow up with a colonoscopy.
Is colonoscopy painful, will I be sedated?
No, colonoscopy is usually not painful! Colonoscopies are performed using intravenous sedation (sometimes referred to as twilight sedation) in which the patient is very drowsy, sleepy, and comfortable.
Who should be screened?
Individuals who are 45 years old or above should be screened for colorectal cancer.
Anyone with a personal or family history of colon polyps or colorectal cancer, and anyone with inflammatory bowel diseases (Ulcerative colitis, Crohn disease)
Can colon cancer be cured?
Colon cancer can be cured if caught early and is contained to the colon, this is why screening is very important. Depending on the stage of the cancer, the treatment options include surgical removal of the cancer and/ or chemotherapy or radiation therapy.