Colon cancer is a life-threatening disease, which affects both men and women. If not treated on time, it is very difficult to cure. Read on to know about the symptoms and treatment of bowel cancer.
This variation of cancer affects the large intestine, the final organ of the digestive system, responsible for bowel movements. The large intestine comprises mainly the colon and the rectum. Sometimes, the word ‘colon’ is used to denote the entire large intestine. It is an elongated tube, which is divided into four parts: the ascending colon, transverse colon, the descending colon, and the sigmoid colon. The rectum constitutes the remaining six inches of the gastrointestinal tract. The colon receives the waste material from the small intestine and converts it into feces. The rectum stores the feces, before it is let out through the anus.
It is said that two-thirds of this disease occurs in the colon, while one-third occurs in the rectum. When it affects the rectum, it is called colorectal cancer. The number of people affected by it in the small intestine is negligible.
This condition occurs due to the unnatural and rampant growth of cells in the colon or in the rectum. It usually arises from a mushroom-like growth known as polyps in the large intestine. These polyps are non-cancerous and can be removed easily. However, if left untreated, they may lead to cancer.
Other causes include obesity, less intake of fibrous foods, heavy consumption of meat and alcohol, smoking, lack of exercise, and heredity. Inflammatory diseases like ulcerative colitis can also lead to this disorder. Elderly people are at a higher risk of being affected by this. However, if there is a history of this ailment in the family, it may affect youngsters as well.
Cancer is asymptomatic in its nascent stages. The symptoms that appear in the advanced stages are as follows:
- Presence of blood in the feces: You may notice blood in your feces. Sometimes, it is mixed with the stool and may go unnoticed. This occurs when the tumor is in the colon, as the blood may turn dry by the time it reaches the anus. On the other hand, if the tumor is in the rectum, then blood can be seen clearly.
- Change in bowel movements: One may suffer from diarrhea, the urge to visit the washroom frequently, constipation, and face difficulty in passing feces. Constipation occurs when the disease has affected the rectum and can give rise to severe abdominal or stomach pain.
- Thin stools: Presence of a tumor in the rectum may make one feel heavy even after discharging the feces. Also, the stool may appear in a thin shape because it has to compress itself through the tumor to reach the anus.
- Anemia: Heavy blood loss causes iron deficiency resulting in anemia, where the person feels tired, lethargic, and undergoes sudden weight loss. This symptom is experienced mostly when the illness has affected the initial part of the colon.
- Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, decreased appetite, and fever.
- It can also affect the other organs of the body leading to presence of blood in the urine or vaginal discharge, in the case of women.
It mostly affects older people, so it is advisable for people above 50 to get themselves periodically examined to rule out the possibility of getting affected by it. Some of the tests through which this condition can be detected are colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, barium enema, and stool testing.
- Treatment depends upon the stage in which the cancer is detected. If it is in its early stages, a minor operation known as polypectomy is sufficient, wherein the physician removes the polyps from the affected areas during a screening test called colonoscopy.
- However, if detected at an advanced stage, the patient has to go through a major surgery, which is known as bowel resection. In this case, along with the tumor, the part which was affected is also removed and the unaffected parts are rejoined.
- The most serious cases are treated through a surgical procedure known as colostomy, wherein a colostomy bag is attached outside the abdomen for the feces to pass. It may be a temporary arrangement till the large intestine heals or it can be permanent, if the entire colon or rectum is removed.
- Many times, the disease has a tendency to grow back after an operation. So, radiation or chemotherapy is administered to stop it from reappearing.
It is a serious disease and being diagnosed with it can affect a person physically and emotionally. Taking precaution is always better than treatment. Including a healthy diet of leafy vegetables and fruits and exercising regularly can lessen the risk of this cancer.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.