The colon is more commonly known as the large bowel or large intestine. Colon cancer is cancer of the large intestine. It is one of the leading types of cancers affecting the population in present day.
- More than 90% of people who are affected are diagnosed with colorectal cancer after age 50.
- Family history of colon cancer (especially parents or siblings).
- Personal history of Inflammatory Bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis for eight years or longer.
- History of polyps (small tiny bumps with stalks similar to mushrooms) in the colon or rectum.
- Personal history of breast, uterine or ovarian cancer.
- Colon cancer and rectal cancer has shown association with a low fibre and high fat diet.
- People with diabetes and insulin resistance have an increased risk of colon cancer.
- Smoking and consuming excess Alcohol are known to be risk factors for colon cancer development.
- Sedentary lifestyle
Symptoms that are seen in but not limited to colon cancer are-
- A change in your bowel habits, including diarrhoea or constipation or a change in the consistency of your stool, that lasts longer than four weeks
- Rectal bleeding.
- Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain.
- A feeling of incomplete bowel emptying.
- Weakness or fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
- Continuous urge to defecate.
It is best for anyone having the above symptoms to get themselves examined by a specialist at the earliest.
Prevention of colon cancer- It is important to know that colon cancer is preventable and treatable. Here are a few important prevention steps.
- Screening- the ideal age for screening for low risk is around 50.However, in people with high risk factors ( such as family history ) or symptoms, it must be done earlier after discussing with a physician. The screening is usually done by stool occult blood test that can detect traces of blood in stool which may be due to the cancer. It is not a confirmatory test but it is a good screening test.
The doctor may advise colonoscopy after assessing the person’s medical history. Colonoscopy is done to visualize the large bowel. It is done with a flexible tube inserted through anus, with a camera at the tip. It is done after a good bowel preparation i.e. after the person drinks a liquid that will enable him/her to have bowel movements to get rid of all the stool in the colon. The colonoscope will enable the doctor to visualize the large bowel and it also enables biopsy if there is any area suspicious for cancer.
Lifestyle changes that reduce risk
- Diet: Eating high fibre foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains are known to lower the risk of colon cancer whereas eating red meat and processed food items are known to increase the risk.
- Exercise: Getting at least 30 minutes of exercise every day for 5-6 days of the week has been known to reduce the risk.
- Limit Alcohol: According to many recent studies, there is convincing evidence that Alcohol increases the risk of colon cancer. Stopping alcohol intake or limiting its intake is highly advised.
- Quit smoking: Smoking is a known risk factor and quitting it may help in preventing colon cancer.
- Maintaining healthy weight range : Excess body fat that accumulated due to unhealthy eating choices is known to increase the risk of colon cancer. Losing weight gradually with healthy diet and exercise can have a triple effect and help in preventing colon cancer.
It is advisable to discuss any recent bowel changes ,that have been persisting for more than 4 weeks with you doctor and get yourself screened at a suitable age depending on whether you have low or high risk.
Dr. Afroze Fatima