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Warning Signs Of Colon Cancer
Colon cancer usually occurs in individuals after the fifth decade, but it is not rare earlier in adult life. The distribution of this cancer is such, that rectum is the most affected part, next comes the sigmoid colon, and after that the caecum. In any case of bleeding via the fecal route in individuals over the age of 40, a complete investigation of the colon should be performed.
Warning signs of colon cancer, such as a sudden alteration in bowel habits, bloating, and blood in stools should not be ignored
Alarming Signs Of Colon Cancer
The most common warning signs that should raise an alarm, include the following:
- Alteration in bowel habits: An adult previously having a predictably regular bowel habit, suddenly develops irregularity or a change in consistency of stools. There may be increasing constipation, requiring laxatives. The episodes of constipation may be followed by attacks of diarrhea.
- Palpable lump: A lump may be felt in the lower abdomen, on the right or left side, depending on the location of the tumor. This lump is not necessarily the tumor itself, but the impacted stools above it.
- Pain: Episodes of severe colicky pain in the suprapubic area (middle of the lower abdomen) can occur. This severe cramping is caused by intestinal obstruction due to the tumor. It may at times mimic the pain of acute appendicitis, and the tumor may be discovered unexpectedly during the appendicectomy operation. On rare occasions, the appendix is swollen, surrounded by pus, or even gangrenous due to the obstruction caused by a tumor blocking its mouth. In advanced stages, the pain becomes a dull, constant ache. Another cause of pain is tearing the bowel or perforation, with the leaking of intestinal contents into the abdominal cavity, and causing inflammation and infection.
- Distension: Lower abdominal distension is not uncommon, and as with pain, is relieved with the passage of flatus. A distended belly bulges out more than it did a few months ago, without any weight gain.
- Tenesmus: Tumors in the lower part of the colon may give rise to a feeling of the need for evacuation, which may result in tenesmus (a sense of incomplete evacuation) accompanied by the passage of blood and mucus, especially in the early morning. The blood can be seen in stools, or at times make them look darker.
- Bladder symptoms: These are not unusual, and in some instances, signify a colovesical fistula, or a pathway between the colon and urinary bladder formed due to the spread of the tumor.
- Anemia: It may be severe, and unyielding to iron supplements and other forms of treatment. At times pallor, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, and difficulty in breathing on exertion, may be the only symptoms present. Cancers of the right side of the colon give rise to ulcers, causing chronic insidious blood loss without a change in the appearance of the stools. Since cancer may bleed intermittently, however, a random test for the presence of occult blood in stools, may be negative. As a result, the unexplained presence of iron deficiency anemia in any adult mandates a thorough check-up of the entire large bowel.
- Digestive upsets: Loss of appetite, indigestion, bloating, unexplained nausea and vomiting and weight loss are often present.
- Unexplained weight loss or fatigue
- Severe symptoms: Cancer cachexia, jaundice, and enlargement of the liver become apparent when the tumor is at an advanced stage.
Diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains has a protective effect against colon cancer
A preventive approach towards colon cancer
Several synthetic and naturally occurring materials have been assessed as possible inhibitors of colon cancer. These include the following:
- Aspirin: The most effective class of chemopreventive agents are aspirin and other Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs), that suppress the multiplication of cancer cells. This inhibitory effect appears to increase with the duration of aspirin use.
- Diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains: Antioxidant vitamins such as ascorbic acid (vitamin-C), tocopherol (vitamin-E), and beta-carotene (a precursor of vitamin-A) present in diets rich in fruits and vegetables have been associated with lower rates of colorectal cancers. Whole grains are loaded with healthy fiber that reduces colon cancer risk.
- Alcohol consumption in moderation
- Avoidance of smoking
- Regular exercise: Physical workout sessions of at least 30 minutes duration every day, for six days every week, have a cancer protective effect.
- Maintaining healthy body weight
- Estrogen Replacement Therapy: Postmenopausal Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is associated with a reduced risk of colon cancer in women. This protective effect is due to an alteration in bile acid composition by these synthetic hormones.
- Calcium supplements: On regular intake, calcium supplements (that are commonly taken after menopause to prevent osteoporosis) prevent the growth of cancer cells in the colon.
Colon cancer screening
Colon Cancer Screening
As per the CDC recommendations, adults aged 50 to 75 years should undergo testing with one or a combination of the below-mentioned screening tests:
- Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) or Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) performed at home using simple kits every year.
- Flexible Sigmoidoscopy that should be performed every 5 years, with Fecal Occult Blood and Fecal Immunochemical test every 3 years.
- Colonoscopy repeated every 10 years, or as recommended by the attending physicians, gastro surgeons or gastroenterologists.
People at a higher risk may consider screening at age 45, or as recommended by the attending medical practitioner.
Disclaimer: This information is meant for educational purposes only. It does not intend to replace the advice of your doctor or qualified healthcare professional.