Colon Cancer overview
Colon cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the large intestine, the final portion of the digestive tract. It typically starts with small non-cancerous groups of cells called polyps forming in the colon. Over time, the polyps can develop into colon cancer cells.
As with most types of cancer, there aren’t many symptoms of early stages, especially before polyps develop into cancer. However, once they do, people often experience a constant change in bowel habits, rectal bleeding, and persistent abdominal pain. Others feel as if their bowels haven’t emptied completely, with an unexplained weakness or weight loss.
As with all types of cancer, one of the most significant complications is the metastasizing or spreading of cancer to other organs. Colon cancer most commonly spreads to the liver first but is also known to move to the lungs, bones, brain, and spinal cord. Once cancer spreads, it becomes a lot more challenging to deal with, making early detection and screening paramount.
Doctors still don’t know what causes most forms of colon cancer. Generally speaking, colon cancer begins when healthy colon cells start to develop mutations in their DNA. This DNA is split into different genes, each with their own portion of the data needed to make new cells. When this information becomes corrupted, cells cease normal function and may become cancerous. This often causes cells to grow at an alarming rate, damaging healthy cells as they proliferate.
While researchers don’t know precisely what causes colon cancer, they have identified several key risk factors. Some of these are things out of our control, such as age, race, and family history. African-Americans have a higher risk of colon cancer, as do people over the age of 50. However, other risk factors such as obesity, diet, and exercise can all impact your chances of developing colon cancer. For instance, low-fiber, high-fat diets have been linked to greater risk, along with a sedentary lifestyle.
Colon cancer is a widespread problem, with estimates saying over 100,000 people in the US will be diagnosed with colon cancer this year alone. That makes it the third most common type of cancer in both men and women, excluding skin cancer. While it’s most common in people over 50, rates in younger adults have been on the rise, but researchers don’t yet know why.
Colon cancer is a very serious diagnosis, so the primary focus should be on prevention and timely treatment. If you have any concerns you or a loved one could be dealing with colon cancer, be sure to talk to your doctor as soon as possible. Only a medical professional can provide a diagnosis and get you on the best path forward.