What is colon cancer?
Colon cancer is a malignancy that begins in the colon, or in the large intestine. The large intestine is an organ which is a long, tube-shaped structure located near the rear end of the digestive system. The colon plays an important role in digestion, since it is responsible for the extraction of some key fluids and nutrients from all consumed food. The colon is also an important unit in the process of excreting solid waste from the human body, via the rectum.
How does colon cancer start developing?
Colon cancer is known to start forming as benign polyps. Benign polyps are either flat, or knob-shaped growths that are present on the inner lining of the large intestine. Occasionally, these growths are known to cause symptoms such as unexplained bleeding (the presence of blood in the stool), or constipation. However, in most cases, these polyps produce no early symptoms at all – which is why most people may not even realize when these signs are present.
Some polyps may continue to remain benign, which means that they will exist as non-cancerous masses. Some of these tumors can become malignant, or cancerous. These polyps are often detected using a procedure called a ‘colonoscopy’. In most cases, if doctors find the presence of one or more polyps during a routine colonoscopy, they are removed at the same procedure.
Who is at risk for colon cancer?
Anyone can develop colon cancer, especially if there is a known family history of colon cancer. The kind of lifestyle that a person leads, also plays a big role in the occurrence of colon cancer. Obesity has proven links with the development of polyps.
However, if there is no prior history of polyps, regular screenings should begin at the age of 45 (as per 2018 American Cancer Society guidelines). Also, screenings should be performed if a person starts demonstrating symptoms such as the narrowing of stools, persistent abdominal pain or an unexplained change in bowel movement patterns.
While describing symptoms, patients should aim to provide as many details as possible, for instance – the date when the pain began, the exact frequency of bowel movements, and severity of the pain. Most people with no family history of colon cancer are always advised to get screened after the age of 50, because the risk of developing colon cancer gets significantly higher after the age of 50.