Cancer, in its many forms is one of the most dreaded diseases in the United States and around the world. Researchers have found that many processed foods, indiscriminate usage of chemicals as fertilizers, pollution in the atmosphere, radiation, and several other factors are contributing to the disease. While in women, most severity is reported from breast cancer, colon and rectal polyps becoming malignant are common in men as well as women.
Most of the digestion and absorption occurs in the stomach and small intestines. The large intestines, however, are also responsible for absorption of water and for excretion of toxins and waste material. Measuring nearly 5 feet (150 cm) in length, the large intestines consist of the cecum, which is the junction of the small and large intestines, and where the appendix is located. From the cecum, the large intestine is called the colon, which is divided into the ascending, transverse, descending and sigmoid colon.
The type of cancer that affects the colon and/or rectum (colon cancer) is called Adenocarcinoma. The term adeno suggests something related to the glandular cells, and the term carcinoma relates to a malignant tumor which appears in the epithelial tissue in that area. Statistics project a grim picture of colon and rectal adenocarcinomas for being the third most common cancer in the North America and Europe. However, the same statistics also project a favorable recovery and healthy future life of patients who have been diagnosed and treated early.
Colon cancer includes tumor/s and/or multiple polyps growing in any part of the colon, rectum and also the appendix. There are polyps, called adenomatous polyps, that look something like a mushroom that grow in the rectum and large intestine; these are usually benign (noncancerous). Though, the adenomatous polyps are usually noncancerous, they can turn into cancer over time, if they are not removed. The trouble with colon cancer is that there are no symptoms until the disease advances. Many patients consider loss of blood during excretion to be from hemorrhoids (sometimes called piles) and do not report the symptom to their attending physician for investigation and diagnosis. Occult blood in the stools is one primary symptom of tumors in the colon.
Symptoms of adencarcinoma and adenomatous polyps may appear based on the location of the tumor or polyps inside of the colon. The patient may feel generalized weakness, fatigue, shortness of breath and abdominal discomfort. The polyps and tumors could cause a bowel obstruction; the patient could have trouble moving his/her bowels. If an obstruction occurs, this would lead to an emergency situation which could lead to perforation of the colon. The patient with colon cancer is most at risk for bowel obstructions and perforations. When the ascending and transverse colon becomes affected with tumors, the surrounding regions in the abdomen could suffer from ascites (an accumulation of fluids in the abdomen) and jaundice.
How is adenocarcinoma of the colon diagnosed?
Diagnostic studies may be accomplished in the following ways:
Colonoscopy – A colonoscopy is done by advancing a digital camera along a tube that is inserted into the rectum and colon. The camera records the inside of the colon and any tumors or polyps that are there also.
Sigmoidoscopy – Another diagnostic study is the sigmoidoscopy; this is like the colonoscopy, but it doesn’t go as far up into the colon. The sigmoidoscope can visualize about 23 inches (60 cm) of the colon.
Blood tests – The doctor will do a complete blood count, and he may also test the carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) levels. The carcinoembryonic antigen is a protein that is common to the cells of the body. The normal blood level for nonsmokers and smokers are below 2.5 and 5.0 nanograms/ml respectively. If the serum CEA levels start increasing above the normal levels, this could be a marker that a cancerous tumor is present in the body.
Barium enema – A barium enema may also be used to evaluate the polyps and tumors inside of the colon. Barium is a contrast medium that allows the inside of the colon to be visualized by an X-ray.
What causes colon cancer?
The medical community has not been able to identify any specific causes for colon cancer. However, there are many factors that contribute to the increased risk of adenocarcinoma of the colon. These include smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, obesity, and chronic constipation, eating highly processed foods, eating foods high in fat, and eating foods low in fiber. Genetics may be another factor associated with the incidence of colon cancer.
Nowadays, adenocarcinoma of the colon can be caught early due to the awareness brought to colon cancer. Most patients are urged, by their doctors, to get a colonoscopy by the time they reach 50 years of age. If your colonoscopy turns out to be normal you should have another one done in 10 years. If you do have polyps, your doctor may advise you have a colonoscopy more frequently than every 10 years. The treatment for polyps is surgical removal. This can be done during the colonoscopy. If an adenocarcinoma is present, it will be surgically removed and further treatment may include radiation and chemotherapy.
Author’s note: I had a colonoscopy done in 2009. I had one benign polyp. The doctor advised that I have another colonoscopy in 5 years, since I did have one polyp.