Colon Cancer 101

As one of the leading forms of cancer in the country, colon cancer is serious business. That is why awareness, prevention and screening are life-saving causes. According to the National Cancer Institute, there are over 100,000 new cases of colon cancer found ever year, with almost 50,000 deaths in 2011. Some risk factors are avoidable, and regular screenings as you age will increase the likelihood that any potential cancer will be found early enough to treat.

Risk Factors
The U.S. National Library of Medicine lists several risk factors for colon or rectal cancer, including:

  • A family history of colorectal cancer
  • African or Eastern European descent
  • A diet high in processed or red meats
  • A history of cancer, especially in the breasts
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Colorectal polyps
  • Age older than 60 years
  • A habit of excessive drinking
  • Cigarette smoking

You may notice some signs of colorectal cancer, but keep in mind that colon cancer often presents with no symptoms at all. Regular colonoscopy screenings after age 55 are vital for catching the disease early enough for effective treatment. Signs might include:

  • Tenderness or pain in the lower abdomen
  • Change in bowel movements
  • Bloody or narrow stool
  • Unexplained weight loss

Stages of Colon Cancer
The U.S. National Library of Medicine breaks down colon cancer into five distinct stages. The earliest stages have the highest recovery rates. Stage 0 begins with cancer cells only in the innermost layers of the colon. As the cancer progresses, it will spread through the muscle wall of the colon, to the lymph nodes, and to other organs. 

The most common treatment approaches will include surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy.  Surgery is typically effective during the early stages, with radiation and chemotherapy being used during the later stages.

If you have questions about colon cancer, St. Petersburg General Hospital encourages you to attend an informational gathering on November 8 at Magnolia Gardens in Pinellas Park. Matthew Couch, MD, will speak about possible symptoms and treatment methods. The event begins at 6 p.m. To register, call 1-888-741-5122.

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