Definition

Cancer of the Colon

Causes

The exact causes of colon cancer are unknown, however there are several risk factors, including age, diet, family history of colorectal cancer or polyps and a personal history of ulcerative colitis, colon polyps, or cancer of other organs, especially of the breast or uterus.

Symptoms

The most common symptoms are rectal bleeding and changes in bowel habits, such as constipation or diarrhea. These symptoms are also common in other diseases so it is important to receive a thorough examination. Abdominal pain and weight loss are usually late symptoms, possibly indicating more extensive disease.

Unfortunately, many polyps and early cancers fail to produce symptoms. They often do not bleed or cause a change in bowel habits, and they do not hurt. Therefore, it is important that a routine physical examination after the age of fifty include colorectal cancer detection procedures.

Diagnosis & Treatment

The vast majority of colon cancers can be treated with surgery. The surgeon removes the section of colon containing the tumor and then the two ends of the colon are reconnected. The tissue next to the colon contains the lymph nodes. These nodes are removed because the lymph system is one of the ways cancer cells spread to other parts of the body. The pathologist carefully examines the removed tissue to determine the extent of the cancer in the colon wall and in the lymph nodes. If cancer is found in the lymph nodes, chemotherapy may be recommended after surgery.

Sometimes the cancer will be found to have already metastasized (spread to other organs) when it is first diagnosed. In such cases, an individual treatment plan is made after extensive testing. Surgery, radiation and chemotherapy may all be used where appropriate.

Visit the American Society of Colon & Rectal Surgeons website for more information