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Colon Cancer: Overview and Types


Colon Cancer: Overview and Types

Colon cancer is the fourth most common cancer in both men and women. There are an estimated 143,000 new cases of colon cancer per year, and colon cancer leads to 51,690 deaths per year. Colon cancer is both prevalent and deadly. It is therefore important to understand the risk factors, screening and treatment options for colon cancer.

Basics of colon cancer

Colon cancer, short for colorectal cancer, is cancer of the large intestine, which is part of the digestive system. The colon is longest part of the large intestine, and the rectum is the last few inches of the large intestine. Symptoms of colon cancer include: abdominal pain, blood in the stool, diarrhea and unexplained weight loss.

Causes of colon cancer

Colon cancer often starts as noncancerous cells called polyps. These cells sometimes, but not always, become cancerous over time. Colon cancer is more common in people over the age of 50. Other risk factors include: a family history of colon cancer, mutations in the HNPCC or FAP genes, Ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, obesity and cigarette smoking. A colonoscopy is used to screen people over 50 or those who have high risk factors.

Stages of colon cancer

Cancer is categorized into five stages, Stage 0 through Stage IV. The different stages refer to the extent the cancer has spread. In Stage 0 and Stage I, the cancer is localized to the inner layers of the intestine. Stage II describes colon cancer that is spread through the muscle wall of the colon. Stage III and Stage IV describe cancer that is also found in the lymph nodes or other organs respectively. Treatments for colon cancer depend on the stage of the cancer. Treatments include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

Screening allows early detection of colon cancer before physical symptoms even develop. The earlier the cancer is detected, the greater the cancer survival rates, and an increase in screening over the last 15 years has reduced the death rate tremendously for colon cancer.

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