Colon cancer symptoms are often so subtle that they are mistaken for less serious conditions. For some people, there are no clear symptoms. Colon cancer affects about 7 percent of the population in the United States each year. Because colon cancer symptoms are not recognized by many people, the colonoscopy screening is extremely important for early detection of this disease.
The cause of colon cancer remains a medical mystery. Certain risk factors have been identified including: * Adults over age 50 * Eating a diet high in animal fats * Inactive lifestyle * Prior bowel problems such as colitis or Crohn’s disease * Smokers and heavy consumers of alcohol
Genetics and ethnicity also play a role in colon cancer. A family history of colon cancer in first degree relatives places a person at increased risk. Ethnicity also seems to slant the risk of colon cancer toward Jewish people from Eastern European countries, Hispanics and African Americans. People who have one or more of the colon cancer risk factor both lifestyle and genetic/ethnicity need more frequent screenings and must pay careful attention to any colon cancer symptoms.
As part of the examination, the physician will ask about awareness of any symptoms such as blood in the stool, cramping, bloating, vomiting, sudden weight loss, change in stools or diarrhea. Next a digital rectal exam is done by the physician who inserts a gloved finger into the rectal area to feel is any abnormalities are present. A fecal occult blood test is simple, painless process in which the patient collects small amounts of stools over several days. These are analyzed at a lab for blood traces which can be a colon cancer symptoms
If needed, the physician may order a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy. The sigmoidoscopy inserts a device to view the lower colon and removes polyps found. A colonoscopy is similar process except it views the entire length of the colon. With either procedure, the polyps or tissues removed are sent to a lab for analysis. This information helps the physician in making a diagnosis of colon cancer and determining at what stage the cancer has progressed.
After lab reports confirm the presences of colon cancer, physician and oncologist report the disease at one of these stages: * Stage 0 is the early stage in which cancer is only in the colon lining. * Stage I shows that cancer is present in the inner walls of the colon. * Stage II is where the cancer spreads outside the walls of the colon and invades other tissues but is not found in any lymph nodes. * Stage IV is the most serious level in which the colon cancer has moved outside of the colon and entered other organs, primarily the lungs and the liver. * Recurrent is the description of cancer which returns after prior treatment was concluded and considered to have been successful. Colon cancer may recur in the colon or in another organ of the body.
Colon cancer symptoms lead to diagnosis and the determination of the cancer stage gives physicians information needed to make treatment plans.
Colon Cancer Stages
Colon cancer is evaluated and characterized according to four stages. Each stage defines the extent to which cancer has spread in the colon and rectum or to other parts of the body. The distinctions between stages are based on detailed medical definitions of extent of cancer cells, count of polyps or tumors and damage outside the colon. Treatment decisions are made consistent with research on prognosis within each stage.
Stage 0 is the first of the colon cancer stages. Because this represents early detection, patients with Stage 0 colon cancer have very good potential for full recovery. Stage 0 colon cancer is typically found during preventative testing as there are rarely any symptoms to clearly point to early cancer. Some methods of early detection include a fecal occult blood test for blood in the stool, a sigmoidoscopy or partial view of the colon and a colonoscopy which is a full view of the colon. Polyps that are identified in Stage 0 colon cancer are removed. Aggressive treatment of the cancer at this early stage leads to a 93% survival rate five years after detection.
Stage II colon cancer is marked by a tumor that pushes out through the wall of the colon but does not involve lymph nodes. Surgical removal of the tumor and damaged area is necessary followed by chemotherapy which may or may not include radiation. Stage II survival rate is 78%.
Stage III is consistent with cancer that has already spread out of the colon and into the lymph nodes or to other organs. Treatment options involve surgery to remove the tumor and other cancer cell areas, chemotherapy and possibly radiation as the tumor is large and invasive. The five year survival rate for Stage III colon cancer after treatment is 64%.
Stage IV is the most severe type of colon cancer where the cancer has spread outside the colon to the liver, lungs or other organs. As a result the cancer may have damaged these organs so much that portions of them are surgically removed. The size of the tumor is not as significant as the extent to which it affects lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation may be used for treatment. Some oncologists prefer to use a combination of drugs in the chemotherapy to gain maximum impact. The five year survival rate for Stage IV colon cancer is only 8%.
Even after treatment, patients with Stage IV colon cancer are more likely to have a recurrence of the disease that with any other of the colon cancer stages. The cancer may recur at the original site or travel to another organ. For two-third of patients, the liver is also invaded by cancer. The only other option for a Stage IV or recurrent cancer patient is to participate in a clinical drug trial, hoping that some new discovery can make a difference in an otherwise bleak survival rate. While there are no guarantees that experimental drugs can help, this may be the only remaining option.