Cancer affects the body’s most basic unit, the cell. Normally, cells grow and divide to form new cells. When cells grow old, they die to make room for new ones and new cells grow only when the body needs them. However sometimes the old cells do not die or new cells are produced when not needed by the body they form tumors. Tumors can be either benign or malignant (National Cancer Institute, 2011). and organs.
Benign tumors are non-cancerous and when removed they do not grow back. Malignant tumors are cancerous and most instances life threatening. When malignant tumors are removed, they tend to grow back and can invade and damage nearby tissues
Description of Colon Cancer
Colon cancer is the presence of malignant tumors in the lower part of the large intestine. The colon is part of the digestive system. It is a large muscular tube. The colon and the rectum form the large intestine. It stores waste material before it is eliminated from the body through the anus. Colon cancer starts on the lining of the colon and if left untreated can grow into the muscle and layers beneath and eventually through the wall of the colon.
Tumors in the colon can be either malignant or benign (National Cancer Institute, 2011). Benign tumors in the colon are called polyps or adenoma whereas malignant tumors in the colon are called cancers. If benign tumors are not removed from the colon, they can become malignant over time. Most of malignant tumors in the colon develop from benign tumors.
- Cancer of the colon can spread and invade nearby cells and tissues. Cancer of the cell can also break away and attack other body organs such as the liver and the lungs. When cancerous cells in the colon break away and attack other organs in the body it is known as metastasis of the colon cancer. When metastasis of the colon cancer occurs, there is a very small probability the cancer can be cured completely.
- According to the American Cancer Society (2011) cancer of the colon is the third and fourth cause of cancer in males and females respectively worldwide. Cancer of the colon is more common in the western world than African and Asian countries. People who eat high fat processed foods common in western world are more prone to getting colon cancer than people who eat fresh high fiber unprocessed foods.
Other names used to refer to Colon cancer
- Colon cancer commonly referred to as colorectal cancer or bowel cancer. It is known as the colorectal cancer because it attacks the large intestine, which comprises of the colon and the rectum.
- The large intestine is also known as the bowel thus colon cancer is also known as bowel cancer (American Cancer Society, 2011.
Causes of Colon Cancer
Colon cancer is not contagious but there are certain risk factors, which increase an individual’s probability of developing the disease. They factors include: high fat intake, presence of benign tumors or polyps in the colon, history of colon cancer in the family, and presence of chronic ulcerative colitis in the colon.
Individuals who regularly consume diets high in fats have high chances of getting cancer of the colon. After metabolism of fats the by products may lead to formation of cancer causing chemicals known as, carcinogens. However, diets high in fiber may help the body to eliminate the carcinogens from the body thus reducing chances of getting malignant tumors in the colon.
Presence of polyps increases individuals chances of getting colon cancer. Polyps are benign tumors, which do not have any negative effects on the body. However, if left untreated they may become malignant over time thus causing colon cancer. Polyps have very few or no symptoms at all. However if an individual is diagnosed with polyps he or she should have them surgically removed immediately to reduce the chances that they become malignant and cause colon cancer. Colon polyps develop when chromosome damage occurs in cells in the inner lining of the colon. Chromosomes control the growth of cells in an orderly manner. However, sometimes due to chromosomal damage there is abnormal growth cell in the colon resulting in colon polyps.
Chronic ulcerative colitis causes inflammation on the lining of the colon. Prolonged inflammation of the lining of the colon may result into colon cancer. The risk of developing colon cancer in patients with chronic ulcerative colitis increases depending on the location and extent of the colitis. Individuals who develop colon cancer due to chronic ulcerative colitis have a high chance of completely curing the cancer because there is a high chance it will be diagnosed during early stages. This is because it is perquisite for individuals with ulcerative colitis to undergo annual biopsies thus increase the chance that the cancer will be detected.
An individual’s genetic background may increase his or her chances of getting colon cancer (McIntosh, 2003). A person with a family with a history of colon cancer has up to 20%increased chance of getting colon cancer. However, even though an individual genetic background is a risk a factor in colon cancer, eighty percent of individuals diagnosed with colon cancer have no family history of the disease. Hereditary colon cancer occurs when parents pass cancer-causing defects to their offspring. The cancer causing defects are passed through chromosomes. Children get genetic information from their parents through chromosomes. When the genetic information received contains genetic defects this could cause formation of colon polyps in the colon and eventually if not surgically removed the colon polyps may develop into colon cancer. Patients who have the hereditary colon cancer gene have a high chance of developing colon polyps at a very young age and colon cancer as they approach adulthood.
Certain lifestyle habits such as smoking and drinking alcoholic beverages on a daily basis increases the chance of an individual developing colon cancer. For instance individual who consume more than thirty grams of alcohol per day are have more seventy percent colon cancer. Smoking also increases an individual's chances of getting colon cancer.
Symptoms of colon cancer can take long time before presenting. Symptoms depend on the position cancerous tumor in the colon. The right colon is spacious and cancerous tumors can grow to big sizes before any systems start to show. The left side of the colon is relatively smaller thus, symptoms of the cancer present earlier show from the onset of the growth of the cancer. Cancerous tumors in the right side of the colon may not present abdominal systems but cause iron deficiency in the body, which may eventually result to anemic condition. The patient’s losses a lot of blood as the cancerous cells develop which result in a feeling of weakness and fatigue over time.
Cancerous tumors in the left side of the stomach may cause obstruction in the digestive tract resulting in irritable bowel syndrome, constipation or diarrhea. When bright red blood is present in a patients stool this is indicative of the cancerous tumor being close to end of the left colon or in the rectum.
The screening tests for diagnosing colon cancer are recommended for individuals who have high risk factors.
The patient has to drink an enema containing a white, chalky liquid with barium. The enema helps to outline the wall of the large intestine on the X-ray. The tumor appears as dark shadows on the X-ray. The barium enema is diagnostic method for colon cancer, which involves taking X-ray of the colon.
A colonoscopy is more accurate for diagnosis of colon cancer because the doctors can diagnosis the exact nature of the tumor while the x-ray only shows presence and location of the tumor. If colon polyps are found during the inspection, they are removed through the colonoscopy and sent to a pathologist for further diagnosis. If the colon cancer is confirmed by a biopsy, a staging examination must be performed. The staging examination helps to determine whether the cancer has spread to other organs since colon cancer tends to spread to other organs. The staging exams involve CAT scan of the abdomen, liver and lungs, chest x-ray and ultrasonography.
This diagnostic method is useful in the initial screening stage.
Treatment of colon Cancer
- Surgery is the most common form of treatment for colon cancer. The process involves removal of the tumor, a small portion of healthy bowel surrounding the tumor, and all adjacent lymph nodes. The removal of a portion of the healthy portion of the colon and all adjacent lymph nodes helps to reduce chances of recurrence just incase the adjacent cells were infected but not cancerous. The surgeon then reconnects the reminder of the colon. In case the cancer had spread to the rectum, it is permanently removed and sealed off. For removal of waste matter from the body, the surgeon creates an opening in the upper side of the abdomen known as a colostomy. The patients are then trained to adjust to colostomies. Most patients with colostomies go back to normal life after a very short period
- After surgery, some patients may still have microscopic metastasis which if not destroyed cause recurrence of the colon cancer. Chemotherapy is the use of medication to kill cancerous cells in the body. The medication circulates in the entire body of the patient destroying all cancerous cells. Chemotherapy is given shortly after surgery to destroy any microscopic cancerous cells. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2011) chemotherapy given after five to six after surgery is known as adjuvant chemotherapy and it increase the chances of a patient’s survival. Traditionally chemotherapy was used for shrinking the size of the tumor however; doctors stopped using this method for initial treatment because of its high rate of recurrence. Medication used in chemotherapy include Mechlorethamine, oxaliplatin, ifosfamide and taxanes. Chemotherapy is administered either at home or in the doctor’s office. The medication affects all rapidly dividing cells thus has severe side effects that include: hair loss, anemia, mouth sore, easy bruising, and nausea.
- Radiotherapy is commonly used to treat common cancer if it had spread to the rectum. Radiotherapy reduces chance of recurrence by close to fifty per cent (McIntosh, 2003). Side effects of radiotherapy include loss of pelvic hair, fatigue, and irritation of skin on part receiving treatment.
- Other forms of treatment of cancer involve medication and diets which boost the immunity of the patient so that the patient’s immune system can fight the cancerous cells. Laser treatments are also commonly used where a patient has large tumors that cannot be safely removed, through surgery. Laser treatments destroy all adjacent cells that can contain microscopic metastasis thus reducing the need for chemotherapy, and radiotherapy, which is usually necessary after surgically treating colon cancer. An alternative form of treatment involves introduction of chemotherapeutic agents into the liver. This is common when colon cancer had spread to the liver.
The long-term prognosis of colon cancer after treatment depends on whether the disease had spread to other organs such as the abdomen, lungs, and liver. Patients in early stages of the cancer, whose superficial lining is the only one affected make up 8% and in most cases they end up completely cured with long-term survival (The American Cancer Society, 2011).
In patients who had developed metastasis to distant organs such as the lungs and liver long-term survival rate of up to five years is less than 10%. However if these patients receive radiotherapy treatment they can reduce the chance of the malignant tumor developing again this increasing their survival rate.
In patients whose cancer was advanced into inner lining of the colon wall but had not spared to other organs have a survival rate of more than 10% in the long-term but they have a very high enhance of recurrence if they do receive radiotherapy treatment.
Cancer of the colon is the presence of malignant tumors in the colon. If left untreated over a long period of time the disease spreads into other organs of the body such as the liver, abdomen, and lungs reducing a patients chance of fully recovery.
There are many factors, which increase an individual’s chance of getting colon cancer that include: consumption of high fat low fiber diets, genetics, daily consumption of alcohol, presence of benign polyps in the colon and smoking.
Commonly used diagnostic methods for colon cancer include use of colonoscopy, barium enema, and digital rectal exam, stool DNA, blood test, and cell free DNA. Colon cancer can be treated using surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, introducing chemotherapeutic agents into the liver, and use of medication to boost the patient’s immune system. Depending on the extent of the spread of the colon cancer, the prognosis can range from ten percent to more than fifty per cent long-term survival. The role of technologists in treatment is to: advise on minimal invasive treatment procedures, and provide proof of level of the disease in the patient (Masseria, 2010).
The role of technologists in colon cancer treatment is to: advise on minimal invasive treatment procedures, and provide proof of level of the disease in the patient (Masseria, 2010)