Once you turn 50, doctors recommend a variety of tests to monitor how various organs or body tissues are doing, screening, very often, for cancer cells. The colon or large intestine is among the organs that doctors like to keep an eye on. The monitoring can be done with blood tests, an overall review of your health, and a colonoscopy, which is a procedure done right in the doctor’s office and normally takes 30 to 60 minutes.
A colonoscopy is performed by inserting a tube with a light and a camera attached to your rectum, so the doctor can look for what are called polyps – small growths of cells that should not be there. Polyps are most often benign, containing no cancer cells. But some are dangerous, as they are the starting point for cancer, which is an abnormal growth of cells that form tumors – lumps of cells – inside the body and can attack other organs, shutting them down eventually.
There is, meanwhile, no blood test that can tell you if you have colon cancer, although the tests can help doctors analyze how your kidneys and liver are doing. The results of the tests can tell a doctor whether further searching for cancer is recommended.
Symptoms of Colon Cancer
Colon cancer, like other cancers, is rated with a scale of 1-4 with Stage 1 indicating the beginning of cancer and Stage 4, a label given to advanced cancers that have metastasized or spread throughout the body. Cancer cells can spread by traveling through the circulatory system – traveling along with your blood – or the lymph system.
The symptoms of colon cancer are varied. As with any symptoms that have no explanation, with any persistent discomfort, pain, or worry, schedule an appointment with your physician. Specific symptoms include:
— Weakness and exhaustion
— Weight loss
— Changes in bowel movement habits, including diarrhea, constipation or a persistent feeling that you have to eliminate stool
— Bleeding with blood noticeable in your stool or on tissue when you wipe
There are many risk factors associated with colon cancer. The risks increase among African Americans, low-fiber, high-fat diets, smokers, frequent drinkers (of alcohol), people with ulcers, Crohn’s disease, or other inflammatory conditions, those who are older and those with a family history of colon cancer.
With this in mind, you can lower your risk by quitting smoking, exercising, maintaining a correct weight, reducing or stopping alcohol consumption and including high fiber food in your diet.
There are several types of surgery involved in colon cancer. The most basic is the removal of polyps that show up during a colonoscopy exam. When the polyps are small, the physician doing the examination will remove samples to a laboratory to assess their danger. If the polyps are large, the exam will include removal of a portion of one or more of the polyps, and the tissue will go to a laboratory for analysis.
The next level of intervention is an endoscopic mucosal resection. This involves the removal of some of the tissue of the inner lining of your large intestine.
Physicians might also attempt laparoscopic surgery. This is considered minimally invasive surgery because doctors use very small instruments to perform the surgery and use small incisions in the skin to give them access to that. The surgery involves the insertion of a very small camera with a light that will guide the surgical instruments, which are often fed through a tube (as is the camera). The camera shows the surgeon where to remove tissue.
A partial colectomy is a surgical procedure in which the cancerous part of the lower intestine is removed. The better outcome here is to reconnect the large intestine and stitch it back together for normal, but slightly compromised, functioning.
Should the colon not be repairable, the surgeon will have to make it possible for waste to leave your body. The surgeon will create an opening in your abdomen to allow for the remaining intestine to push waste into a bag that you wear through the day and night and empty manually when it needs emptying does this.
Treatment for colon cancer can also involve radiation and chemotherapy. The idea is to target the cancer cells, so they die, leaving the healthy cells behind.
Are you ready for a check-up? Do you notice symptoms that suggest colon trouble? In San Diego, call Pacific Medical Care at 619-333-8114 to schedule an appointment.