Colorectal cancer, more commonly known as colon cancer is a type of cancer wherein there is an uncontrolled growth of cells in the lining of the colon, which over time can grow to include the muscles and burrow through the bowel wall. The colon is also called our large intestines, the final section of our digestive systems. The cancer starts out as benign lumps called adenomatous polyps, which bring about no symptoms at all. Over time they become cancers, so it is important for people to get regular screenings in order to catch the polyps while they’re still benign.
Colon cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in the world. It is considered the second leading cause of cancer related deaths in the United States, with a projected over 43,000 death occurring in 2011. Women are at a lower risk of contracting colon cancer than men, but overall a person’s risk of contracting colon cancer in a lifetime is 1 in 20.
So when is the best time to get screened for colorectal cancer? If you are over the age of 50, the answer is NOW. People should begin getting screened for colon cancer soon after reaching the age of 50. After the initial screening, you should get yourself checked at regular intervals. However, there are people who have a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer who should be screened at an earlier age. These are people who have a family history of colon cancer, those who have inflammatory bowel disease, or you have the genetic disorders familial adenomatous poyposis or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer.
A diagnostic screening is recommended if a person experiences symptoms that may be caused by colon cancer. These symptoms can include changes in bowel habits or changes in the consistency of stool for an extended period of time, rectal bleeding or the presence of blood in the stool, abdominal pain, weakness and unexplained weight loss. A colon cancer screening is done for people who do not experience any symptoms but would like to take preventive measures. Screening is of course the best way, since polyps can be removed before they turn into cancer. This also ups the chance for treatment success and can spell the difference between one time treatment or longer-term maintenance.
During screening, your doctor may use different methods to check your colon. One such method is colonoscopy, where a flexible scope with a video camera is inserted into the anus to get a full view of the entire colon. Another test is the use of dye and x-ray to get a picture of your colon. CT scan may also be performed on the patient to get a 3 dimensional picture of the colon.
If a person is diagnosed with colon cancer, staging comes next, staging determines the severity of the cancer and depending on which stage, the necessary course of treatment is recommended. There are five stages of colon cancer, ranging from 0-IV. Surgery is always the option to remove polyps or cancerous growths.