In colon cancer, abnormal cells multiply and form an ulcerative area that bleeds easily or a narrowing that prevents the passage of feces. If not treated, the disease spreads along the intestinal wall and, through it, to the adjacent organs in the abdominal cavity; cancer cells can also enter the bloodstream and attack other parts of the body. The cause of malignancy in the colon is not known, although one of the possible important factors is nutrition with very little fiber.
The main symptom – which should not be neglected if it lasts longer than 10 days – is a change in the stool, i.e. stronger constipation or diarrhea. The presence of blood in your stool may also be a sign of a colon cancer and requires seeing a doctor; never assume that it is just the consequence of hemorrhoids.
There are also indeterminate symptoms of poor digestion, as well as pain with sensitivity in the lower part of the abdominal cavity. Sometimes the main symptom just a bump in the lower right part of the abdominal cavity. In some cases there are no symptoms, until the cancer is manifested by bowel obstruction or peritonitis as a consequence of the perforated column.
In Croatia, the colon cancer is, by frequency, in the third place among the malignant tumors; it is equally common in both men and women. It may occur at all ages, though it is more common in people with ulcerative colitis and in those who are in their 40-ies or older (especially if they are over sixty or seventy).
Since most forms of colon cancer develop and metastasize (spread) very slowly, you will have an 80% chance of compelte recovery if the disease is early diagnosed. If the malignant process has already spread out of the intestine, the prospects are much worse.
What to do?
If you notice any of the symptoms mentioned, consult a doctor who will examine your stomach and then examine your rectum with a finger (in a rubber gloves) to determine if there is any new growth on your body. You may also need to bring your stool samples for laboratory analysis. If your doctor suspects that you have a cancer – or a benign colon tumor – you will have to go to the hospital for tests such as irigography, sigmoidoscopy and, possibly, colonoscopy.
The best “cure” for this type of cancer, if it is not too advanced, is an operation. If the cancer is developed in the colon, the cancerous tissue is removed with a part of the healthy tissue on both sides, then both ends of the intestine are stitched; this type of procedure is called intestinal resection. If the cancer is in the rectum, usually a colostomy is needed.
If the cancer is too advanced, and the operation is unavoidable, its progress can often be stopped by radiotherapy and/or cytostatics.
If colon cancer is detected early enough, and if the operation can be performed, the odds are very good. Most people with colon cancer surgery survive without health problems five or more years. Treatment success is lower in patients treated only by radiotherapy and cytostatics.