Colon Cancer

Colon Cancer | Dr. Ali Ghahary

In wake of the untimely passing of actor Chadwick Boseman at the age of 43 from colon cancer, many people – especially those who are younger – are asking questions about the disease and the potential risk factors. While the majority of colorectal cancers tend to occur in individuals over the age of 50 (with the average age of diagnosis for men being 68, and 72 for women), there has been a steady increase of cases in younger individuals in recent years, including a much higher disproportionate burden among African Americans by as much as 20%, and an even greater mortality difference.

What is Colon Cancer?

The colon (which consists of four different parts, including the descending colon, ascending colon, transverse colon, and sigmoid colon) is part of the large intestine and is considered the final part of our digestive system. Its main responsibility is to reabsorb fluids while also processing and eliminating waste products from the body.

Cells found in the colon or rectum can change and may begin to behave abnormally or no longer grow. These changes can lead to pre-cancerous conditions such as adenomas (including tubular adenomas, villous adenomas, and tubulovillous adenomas) or hereditary colorectal syndromes. Symptoms of these pre-cancerous conditions may include changes in your bowel habits, mucus in the stool, rectal bleeding, bowel obstruction, abdominal pain, as well as anemia and fatigue. If left untreated, these conditions could also lead to the growth of malignant (cancerous) tumors, which could potentially metastasize to other parts of the body. There are also some rare types of colorectal cancer that can develop, such as squamous cell carcinoma and small cell carcinoma.

Risk Factors

The following factors can increase your risk of developing pre-cancerous conditions or colorectal cancer.

• Having a previous personal or family history of colorectal polyps
• Having a previous personal or family history of colorectal cancer
• Inflammatory bowel disease
• Type II diabetes
• Being overweight or obese
• Consume a diet high in red meats or processed meats
• Smoke
• Drink alcohol
• Your racial/ethnic background
• Are of a certain age

What are the Symptoms of Colon Cancer?

Symptoms associated with colon cancer can vary from person to person, but may include:

• Major changes in bowel habits
• Stools that appear narrower in shape (often described as pencil-thin)
• Blood in the stool (can appear as bright red, black or tarry)
• Diarrhea or constipation
• Feeling as though the bowel does not completely empty
• Weight loss that is unintentional
• Abdominal pain
• Gas
• Bloating
• Constant fatigue
• Anemia

Can Colon Cancer Be Prevented?

While there is no definitive way to prevent colorectal cancer from developing, there are certain measures you can take to lower your risk. For example, by maintaining a healthy weight, having a healthy diet, and avoiding tobacco and alcohol. In addition, if there is a familial history of colon cancer in your family, you should go for regular screening (regardless of age.) This can be one of the most powerful tools in the prevention of colorectal cancer. By going for regular screening, polypus can be detected and removed before they turn cancerous. In addition, regular screening can also detect colorectal cancer when it’s in an earlier stage, therefore making it easier to treat.

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