The colon or the large intestine is that part of the digestive system that is involved with removing the waste and passing it onto the rectum. During digestion, food moves into the colon from the stomach and small intestine. The colon absorbs water and nutrients and passes the waste onto the rectum.
Just like any other cancer, colon cancer is also caused by the erratic division of cells. These cell growths start from small benign growths called polyps in the colon. But when they divide and grow fast, cancer spreads beyond the linings of the colon. Colon cancer and rectal cancer are different but when they do occur together, it is referred to as colorectal cancer. The risk is more among people who are older than 50, especially if they have an existing personal history of polyps. A diet high in fats and low in fibre has been shown to be associated with colon cancer, especially if the diet involves a lot of processed food and red meat.
Colon cancer may not be detected in the early stages. However, as it spreads, you may notice bleeding from the rectum or the anus. Sometimes, there will be blood in your stool. Abdominal pain or discomfort will be there along with fatigue and weakness. If you notice any of these signs, please visit the physician for an examination. The doctor will examine your body for lumps, and you may have to take a digital rectal exam. A colonoscopy confirms whether polyps are present or not and also confirms the extent of spread of the growth.
How treatable is colon cancer?
It mainly depends on the stage of cancer or the extent to which cancer has spread. In the initial stages, the cancer is contained within the colon. If does not grow beyond the inner lining of the colon, then surgery is all that is required to remove it. This will involve removing the polyp or the part that has the growth. If there are no cancer cells beyond this, removing the polyp is enough to treat cancer.
But, if cells exist beyond the edges of the polyp or at the layers of the colon, a partial colectomy may be done to remove that section. When cancer grows into the nearby lymph vessels, chemotherapy or radiation therapy may also be suggested to destroy the cells.
In Stage IV, cancer would have spread from the colon to other parts of the body such as the liver or the lungs. Surgery or chemotherapy will still use here to remove the areas where cancer has spread to. These areas are known as metastases. If these metastases are too big or too many in number, more chemotherapy will be required.
A colonoscopy allows your doctor to check your rectum and colon for the presence of any polyps, tumours, inflammation or bleeding. It is used to detect the presence of the cancerous polyps and to what extent they have spread. The treatment, it is used to remove these growths.
The doctor will use a narrow, flexible tube with a video camera attached to its end which will project what it is capturing onto a screen. This tube is called a colonoscope and is inserted through the anus. It is used as a screening test to check for cancerous growths (presence of polyps). If you have a high risk of colon or colorectal cancer, then you should go for frequent testing.
You should go for a checkup if you have one or more of the following symptoms:
1. Bleeding from the anal area
2. Frequent diarrhoea
3. Frequent abdominal pains
Your colon needs to be empty before the procedure. You may have to follow a special liquid diet of water, juices, solutions, tea and coffee. Avoid red or purple coloured liquids and alcohol.
Some laxatives will also be given which will make you visit the bathroom regularly to flush out whatever waste is remaining in the colon. Hence, you may feel weak. Keep drinking water to keep yourself hydrated, and it is better if you stay at home during this period.
If you are taking any insulin or any other medications, please check with your doctor about their use during this time.
Before the exam, a sedative will be given to make you relax. Make sure someone accompanies you as you will be drowsy even after the treatment.
You will have to lie down with your knees pulled up to your chest. The doctor will insert the colonoscope. You may feel some cramping and the urge to pass a bowel movement. This is all normal, and some deep breathing will help you relax.
The doctor may use other tools to take out tissue samples or remove polyps. After the colonoscope is removed, the anal will be cleaned up. The entire treatment may take less than an hour, but it depends on what growths are found and what needs to be removed.
You may be asked to rest for some time. If someone else has accompanied you, the doctor may then discharge you. Drink water to compensate for the loss during the procedure. The liquid diet will still need to be followed till the doctor feels you can go on solid food.
If you had taken a sedative, then avoid driving or doing any important work by yourself.
If you experience any bleeding or pain after this, please consult your doctor.
If any tissue samples were collected, the doctor would send them to the pathology lab to check for diseases or infection, and the results will be available in a few days.
is a healthcare professional who also spends her spare time educating readers with informative articles. Here she illustrates every details about colonoscopy treatments and how useful it is for treating colon cancer.