We know how to prevent and cure colon cancer with this simple, almost painless procedure called the colonoscopy. The colonoscopy is the gold standard for detecting colon cancer. It is an invaluable screening tool.
The actual procedure takes less than twenty minutes. You are sedated and may be asleep during the exam. A gastroenterologist or surgeon inserts a long flexible tube called a colonoscope into your rectum and guides it into the colon. A tiny video camera at the tip helps look for the tissue masses, called polyps. If one or more suspicious polyps are found, they are removed during the exam and biopsied. The majority of polyps can be removed with a wire loop, and small polyps can be destroyed just by touching them with an electrical current. Air may be introduced to extend the colon for better visibility. In most cases early colon cancer is prevented and cured by removing the colon polyps.
There is usually no pain and no complication from the procedure. There’s a low risk of bleeding when larger polyps are removed. And removing very large polyps, however, may require surgery.
2. What is Colon Cancer?
The colon comprises the upper 4 to 5 feet of your large intestine, and the rectum makes up the lower 6 inches. Colon cancer is cancer of the large intestine, the lower part of your digestive system, called the large intestine and also called the colon. Closely related, rectal cancer is cancer in the last 6 inches of the colon. Together, they’re often referred to as colorectal cancers. According to the American Cancer Society, about 112,000 people are diagnosed with colon cancer annually, and about 41,000 new cases of rectal cancer are diagnosed each year.
3. The Causes of Colon Cancer
Most cases of colon cancer begin as small, noncancerous (benign) clumps of cells called adenomatous polyps. Colon polyps are abnormal mushroom-shaped growths that line the large intestine and protrude into the intestinal canal. Over time some of these polyps become colon cancers. Colon polyps occur in 15% to 20% of adults. The likelihood of any polyp becoming cancerous depends on many factors.
In general, cancer occurs when healthy cells become altered and divide and grow out of control. Over a long period of time some areas of abnormal cells may become cancerous. As with most cancers, the exact cause for colon cancer is unknown. As the disease progresses, colon cancer penetrates the colon walls and spreads to nearby lymph nodes or other organs.
Colon polyps are often small and produce few, if any, symptoms. Regular screening tests can help prevent colon cancer by identifying polyps before they become cancerous. During a colonoscopy procedure, colon polyps are removed. If the colon polyp is not removed, the risk of cancer increases over time. After 20 years, the risk of cancer is 24%. But after polyps have been removed, the risk of developing colon cancer is only 2.3%,
4. The Symptoms of Colon Cancer
Most polyps produce no symptoms and often are found incidentally during a procedure. Many people with colon cancer experience no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. When symptoms appear, they’ll likely vary, depending on the cancer’s size and location in your large intestine. These symptoms are not unique to colon cancer. They may indicate other conditions, but a checkup is always advised.
• Diarrhea or constipation or a change in the consistency of your stool
• Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool
• Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain
• Abdominal pain with a bowel movement
• A feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely
• Weakness or fatigue
• Unexplained weight loss
5. Preparing for a Colonoscopy Procedure
Advise the doctor of any medical conditions and any type of medications you’re taking. You’ll also need to obtain your bowel preparation kit, with laxatives and instructions, from your pharmacy. The colonoscopy requires that the bowel be empty, so that the lining of the colon is visible. You’ll receive instructions regarding diet and laxatives for the day before the procedure. You’ll stay on a clear liquid diet of fat-free bouillon, broth, water, gelatin, black coffee and plain tea. The bowel preparation kit includes a liquid laxative and a stool softener. Because the laxative beverage has an unpleasant taste, it is suggested you refrigerate it and drink it through a straw. You should not eat or drink anything for four to six hours before your exam.
6. What to Expect During the Colonoscopy Exam
The actual colonoscopy procedure usually takes less than twenty minutes. You’ll be given intravenous fluids and medicine to help you relax. Most patients fall asleep and remember nothing about the exam itself. After the colonoscopy, you’ll rest for an hour until the medication wears off. You will not be fully alert and are cautioned not to drive for the rest of the day. There is usually no discomfort, but any cramps can be eased by passing gas or walking. The test results will be available a few days after the procedure. Contact your healthcare provider if you experience persistent pain, pass blood or run a fever.
7. Prevent Colon Cancer by Lowering Your Risk Factors
Reducing your risk factors can also prevent colon cancer. Your risk of colon cancer increases with these factors:
• You are older than 50.
• You have already had colon cancer or colorectal polyps.
• You have an Inflammatory intestinal conditions, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
• You have certain inherited genetic disorders, or a family history of colon cancer and colon polyps.
• You smoke, drink alcohol to excess or have an unhealthy lifestyle.
• Your lifestyle is sedentary.
• You are obese or have diabetes.
• Your diet may be a factor if it is low in fiber and high in fat and calories. The diet in Western countries is a risk factor.
• You drink alcohol to excess.
• You have a growth hormone disorder.
• You have had abdominal radiation therapy for cancer.