Sam Simon, a man known to many as the father and co-founder of a very well received and acclaimed animated TV seriers, ‘The Simpsons’. Pope John Paul II, an inspiring figure to many especially to the Roman Catholics of the world was a great religious leader of his time. These two public figures have one thing in common. Is anyone up for a guess? Well, I hope your guesses are inclined towards what I’m about to discuss for today. Both these personalities succumbed to colon cancer. Many would have already known this fact but for those who don’t, today is a great day to learn something new. In conjunction of the World Colon Cancer Awareness Month, I’m going to elaborate further on this matter in a very simple way.
Colon or colorectal cancer is the cancer of the colon and rectum, which are part of the large intestine. It is one of the commonest cancers worldwide. In Malaysia, it has been reported that Colon cancer is the top and third most reported cancer in males and females respectively. This is a statement taken from a Colorectal Oncology report in 2002. Yes, I do realize that the data is pretty much outdated but based on the recent generalized oncology report in 2012; cancers are being diagnosed more rampantly at a more worrying and devastating state.
What would be the Symptoms of this killer disease?
There are a couple of symptoms that we have to look out for if we are worried about having colon cancer. The following are some of the common ones: -
- Blood in your stool (rectal bleeding)
- A sudden change of bowel habits – a change in the consistency of the stool, which includes constipation or diarrhea that last for more than a month or so.
- Frequent abdominal disturbances such as pain, bloating or even cramps.
- Constantly feeling tired
- Unexplained or unintentional loss of weight
- The feeling of incomplete bowel emptying
Well apart from the above, there are some people who do not experience any early symptoms of colon cancer or may experience some but varying symptoms compared to the general public. These are the group of people who get devastated the most because they are not prepared for such a change in their lives. There is no other way to detect colon cancer in this group of people unless early cancer screening is done.
Causes of Colon Cancer…
Fellow readers, I do know that this section might intrigue you the most because by knowing the causes of a disease, there’s always a chance to prevent it as well. Unfortunately in the case of colon cancer, there are no clear causes of why this devastating disease affects someone.
Researchers and doctors believe that inherited gene mutations increase the risk of colon cancer. Gene is a unit of heritance that comes from both your parents to determine certain characteristics whereas mutation means a change from a norm structure. So, if you have a series of family members with colon cancer, just get yourself checked because you might carry the mutated gene from your family.
Besides that, recent studies have also linked colon cancer with western diets. Based on that study, consuming a typical Western diet can increase the risk of colon cancer. A typical western diet is usually low in fiber and high in fat. So, as of now researches are being undertaken to study the relationship of high fat, low fiber diet and naturally occurring bacteria in the gut. So this gives us a chance to move to a more balanced and healthy diet.
Now let’s look at the factors that put you at risk of getting colon cancer…
- Age – being above 50 years puts you at a greater risk than the younger generation.
- Strong family history of colon cancer or polyps.
- Disease of the colon such as Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease
- Previous personal history of colon cancer
- High fat, low fiber diet
- A sedentary lifestyle
Well, the next is the most challenging part… When do you start getting screened???
This question is one that commonly runs in a person’s mind after reading through an article regarding colon cancer. As per current recommendation, people with an average risk of colon cancer should consider screening at the age of 50. However, this does not apply to those with strong family history of colon cancer, which requires them to be screened earlier at the age of 45.
What tests can I do to confirm it?
Colonoscopy and sample analysis is the definitive test that can rule out colon cancer. No other blood test or imaging will actually help in the diagnosis further. Some doctors do a special blood test to look for a cancer biomarker called CEA (Carcinoembryonic antigen), which is very much related to colon cancer. Well, having a raised CEA in the blood does not mean that someone has cancer, but it puts you at risk of having one. CEA is only used as a marker after treatment has commenced. If CEA levels are going on a declining trend, then that means the treatment is working well. Remember to always look out for this because as a patient you have every right to know your progress.
Colonoscopy helps to visualize the inner lining of the large intestine to look for any abnormal structures or growth. If any growth or abnormality is found, this procedure allows the doctor to pass through surgical tools to sample some tissues for further analysis. From the analysis, the doctor can now confirm whether or not you have cancer and to move further from there.
Stages of Colon Cancer...
For completion sake, I shall include the staging for colon cancer as well. The following are the stages involved in colon cancer:
- Stage 1: Cancer is confined to the inner lining of the colon or rectum.
- Stage 2: Cancer spreads through the wall of colon or rectum.
- Stage 3: Cancer spreads to nearby lymph nodes.
- Stage 4: Cancer spreads to different parts of the body, such as lungs, liver, brain or bones.
Note: Lymph nodes are small oval or bean shaped bodies that are situated in groups. They offer defense against the spread of infection by producing antibodies and become involved in the spread of cancer.
Treatment of Colon Cancer…
Let me wrap up by talking briefly about the treatments involved in colon cancer. The treatment of colon cancer depends on the extent of the disease and the specific location of the tumor. In earlier stages of the disease, surgery is the most effective solution as it removes the tumor and part of the healthy intestine and nearby lymph nodes. In certain cases, some patients may require a colostomy, a surgical opening in the abdomen to pass out waste from the body through a bag worn by patients. This is only done either temporarily or sometimes permanently depending on the case.
Chemotherapy is another treatment entity used by doctors to further destroy cancer cells from spreading to other parts of body from the origin. With the advent of medical technology, chemotherapy has actually improved patients’ quality of life incredibly.
Of course some of you might disagree with me in this because of the side effects that comes along. I guess I’m just being positive and I truly believe that having the disease fully eradicated lifts up the burden of the patients’ life in many ways.
I’m pretty sure, you guys must be either fast asleep or at least exhausted reading this article by now. Before leaving, I feel it’s important for me to reiterate the importance of eating in moderation and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
After all, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
Talk to you soon in the next article.
by Emanuell Jesu Dass
A medical practitioner who's always seeking new opportunities to embrace life. Open to just about anything life throws at him, Emanuell is GetDoc's latest addition to the family and he's just waiting to give back! View all articles by Emanuell Jesu Dass.