About Colon Cancer
Around 1 in 20 people will develop colorectal cancer in their lifetime. It’s the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men and women combined. Fortunately, colon cancer can be preventable, if you make screening a regular part of your care routine.
Risks and Warning Signs
Your risk for colon cancer increases significantly after age 50, although it can still occur in younger adults. Other factors can also increase your risk, including family history, race, a history of polyps or inflammatory intestinal conditions, and lifestyle choices, such as drinking or smoking.
While most people often don’t have symptoms, here are some possible warning signs:
- Changes in your bowel habits, or changes in the consistency of your stool, for more than a few weeks
- Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool
- Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas, or pain
- Feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely
- Weakness or fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
The Importance of a Colonoscopy
The most common way to be screened for colon cancer is a colonoscopy. Most people should start getting colonoscopies at age 50, or sooner if colon cancer runs in your family. Depending on your results, you may need to get a colonoscopy every year, or every few years or longer. This is the best way to catch and treat cancer before it spreads.
Talk with your primary care doctor if you’d like to get a screening, or if you have colorectal concerns, and he or she can schedule a colonoscopy for you. While colonoscopies aren’t exactly fun, they’re not nearly as bad as you think.
Your doctor will give you instructions on what you need to do to prepare. About 18 hours before the procedure, you’ll need to take a special laxative to clean out your colon—this will provide the best screening results. You also won’t be able to eat four to six hours before your colonoscopy.
During the procedure, you’ll be heavily sedated—your body will feel very "numb," so you shouldn’t feel too much discomfort. A scope (small camera) is placed all the way up your colon, and is slowly withdrawn as the surgeon looks for discoloration, scar tissue, or polyps. Some polyps may be removed during the procedure, if they look suspicious.
Dr. Ronda Henry-Tillman, from the University of Arkansas Medical Center, discusses the importance of a colorectal screening and impact colorectal cancer has on African American and Hispanic comunnities.
If the surgeon doesn’t find any areas of concern in your colon, you won’t need any additional follow-up care. Or, he or she may request that potentially suspicious areas are monitored every three or six months.
However, if the surgeon removed any polyps, these will be biopsied and analyzed in a lab. If the results are malignant (cancerous), you’ll need to begin cancer treatment. Keep in mind that 5% of patients who have polyps removed during a colonoscopy may be diagnosed with cancer.
If you are diagnosed with colon cancer, it’s extremely important that you tell your immediate and extended family members to get screened early. When one family member is diagnosed, there is a high likelihood that another family member may also be at risk.
Learn more about testing and diagnosis
When caught early, the five-year survival rate for colon cancer is more than 80%. That’s why screenings are so important. How advanced your cancer is (known as the "stage") will determine the type of treatment you’ll receive. It could involve surgery to remove part of your colon, chemotherapy, or radiation, either separately or in combination.
Cancer treatments can be provided close to home in ThedaCare clinics throughout northeast Wisconsin.
Learn more about treatment options
Living Well in Tough Times
Cancer makes a big impact on your life. It can be particularly tough, especially for colon cancer patients. For example, some types of colon surgery may require that you wear an ostomy, which is bag that’s connected to your colon from the outside of your body and collects waste. Transitions like these are emotionally draining.
Throughout the ups and downs of cancer, ThedaCare will support you and offer services that can help you cope with any challenges.
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