Colon cancer: a little bit of discomfort today can save your life
No one wants to get a colonoscopy, but getting one can literally save your life. It is the best way to screen your colon for cancer and catch this disease early enough to treat it.
Colorectal cancer is a common cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. In 2011, 101,700 new cases of colon cancer were reported in the United States. Your risk of developing this cancer is 1 in 20, so it is vital that you know how to prevent it. It is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States, so even though some of the diagnostic tests are a little uncomfortable, they are certainly worth it to ensure that you are free of this type of cancer.
Colon cancer: no, we're not talking about punctuation
Your colon is the proverbial “last stop” food makes in your digestive tract. In fact, at this point, it is no longer food, but feces. Colon cancer starts as a polyp, or abnormal growth, on the wall of your colon. Polyps that turn into cancer are called adenomatous polyps. Other polyps are possible that do not turn into cancer, such as hyperplastic polyps. Adenocarcinomas are the most common type of cancer in the colon, and these cancers can spread to the walls of the colon, to the lymph nodes and beyond.
You want to put that where? The dreaded colonoscopy
The best way to detect colon cancer is through a procedure known as a colonoscopy. The American Cancer Society recommends that those at average risk of colon cancer have this procedure performed every 10 years after age 50. It involves a bowel preparation the night before the appointment that completely cleans out your intestines by making you evacuate your bowels as much as possible. On the day of the procedure, you will get medication to sedate you through an intravenous line in your arm. The doctor will insert a thin, whip-like camera into your anus and will guide it through your colon to look for polyps and suspicious lesions. He can remove any small findings at this time, as well. Although it may sound intimidating, this screening process is necessary to avoid colon cancer and its serious side effects.
Treating colon cancer: the good, the bag and the ugly
Colon cancer is treated with a combination of radiation, chemotherapy and surgery. Radiation is usually done by external beam radiation. The actual procedure is painless, but side effects include nausea, bowel incontinence and skin irritation. Chemotherapy is any of a number of drugs given to help kill off cancer cells, and it is usually used in conjunction with surgery. With colon surgery, your doctor will remove all or part of your colon. You might need to have a colostomy bag, or an outlet on your abdomen that allows stool to drain out into a special bag. Sometimes this bag is only temporary and it is reversed when the bowel has healed. Sometimes the colostomy is permanent because the cancer has spread too far for reversal.
Avoid colon cancer: eat your vegetables
The best way to avoid the colostomy bag is to get your colonoscopy done every 10 years after 50 and eat a healthy diet that is full of fruits and vegetables. In fact, the American Cancer Society recommends eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Choose whole grains that are high in fiber, such as bran and oatmeal. Stay away from processed foods and red meats. Also, try to maintain a healthy weight because this lowers your risk for colon cancer, as well.
- American Cancer Society; Colorectal Cancer; March 2011
- PubMed Health; Colon Cancer; Yi-Bin Chen, MD; December 2010
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