Colon cancer develops in the small intestine. It usually begins as benign tissue lumps that grow on the colon lining. Sometimes, cancer may also spread to the rectum, in which case medical professionals refer to it as colorectal cancer. The type of this cancer is determined by the extent of its spread and the cause. Here is a brief overview of how colon cancer can be diagnosed and managed among older adults.
How does colon cancer spread?
Colon cancer usually starts as polyps on the inner lining of a person’s colon. Polyps are abnormal cells that grow on the membrane of any tissue or organ. Not all polyps are cancerous. Commonly, the cancer risk is divided between the following types of polyps:
- Non-cancerous hyperplastic or inflammatory polyps
- Precancerous adenoma, including tubular, villous, and tubulovillous
- High risk sessile serrated polyps or traditional serrated adenomas
What are the causes and risk factors of colon cancer?
The exact cause of conditions like colon cancer is unknown. However, medical professionals often say that the following people are more at risk:
- Older adults above 50
- People whose immediate family members have the disease
- Those with a history of medical conditions like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
- People who have previously suffered from ovarian, breast, or cancer of the uterus
Are there any noticeable symptoms?
A change in stool consistency that indicates either diarrhea or constipation is one of the symptoms to look out for when it comes to colon cancer.Abdominal discomforts like feeling bloated, painful cramps, feeling full, followed by nausea or vomiting also need to be examined.
Blood in the stool can make the fecal matter dark or tarry. One must not ignore these symptoms and seek immediate medical attention. Fatigue, unexplained weight loss, and feeling tired throughout the day also indicate a problem with immunity and should be inspected by a medical professional.
How is colon cancer diagnosed?
Screening tests are done to identify the incidence of polyps. Patients with mild to moderate risk are advised to get screening tests done before 45. Other high-risk patients can get it done earlier. Here are the common diagnostic tests:
- Blood tests
Fecal occult tests are done to check for stool in the blood. This is a basic diagnostic factor that allows pathologists to analyze the fecal matter for minute blood traces.
- Barium enema
A barium enema is an internal X-ray of the colon. Doctors perform this test to check and gather images of areas where the polyps grow.
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy
A sigmoidoscopy checks the lower colon and rectum for the presence of cancerous polyps. If the examination proves conclusive, doctors may take a sample of the tissue using biopsy forceps. The sample then undergoes further lab testing to confirm the infected tissue growth.
A colonoscopy allows doctors to study nearly 95 percent of the rectal region, and it is one of the most widely used tests. Like a biopsy done using the sigmoidoscopy, a colonoscopy allows doctors to remove most parts of the polyps directly from the rectum (only when the patient is under sedation).
- Stool DNA testing
Whileblood tests check for blood in the fecal matter, a more advanced version of this test is the stool DNA kit for rectal screening. If the test is positive, a colonoscopy is advised to confirm the condition.
What are the treatment options for colon cancer?
Early screening enables doctors to form a viable treatment plan and understand post-recovery options. Once the condition is confirmed, doctors suggest any one or a combination of the following treatments:
- Surgery to remove the polyps and prevent an early spread of the cancer
- Chemotherapy to destroy the infected cells in more severe forms of colon cancer
- Radiation therapy if cancer has spread beyond the colon, affecting nearby organs
- Targeted cancer therapy to block cancerous cell from multiplying