The specific cause of colon cancer is unknown, but researchers have identified factors that increase the risk of developing colon cancer. These include:
being overweight or obese
being physically inactive
having a diet high in red meats or processed meats like hot dogs and lunchmeat
heavy use of alcohol
personal or family history of colon cancer or polyps
personal history of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
having type 2 diabetes
Colon cancer causes very few symptoms in its early stages, which is why it’s so very important to have a colonoscopy on a regular basis beginning at age 50 or earlier for patients with a family history of the disease or other risk factors. As the disease develops, it can cause symptoms like:
changes in bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation
blood in the stool (bowel movement)
stools that appear sticky or tar-like
unexplained weight loss
Symptoms can vary depending on the location of the tumor, its size and the stage of the disease, including whether the cancer has spread to other tissues or organs.
Colonoscopy is the leading method for diagnosing colon cancer, and when performed regularly, it can help prevent colon cancer from occurring. Colon cancer begins as fleshy growths called polyps, and regular colonoscopies allow these polyps to be removed in their early stages, before they have a chance to become cancerous.
Treatment for colon cancer depends on the size of the tumor and the stage of the cancer. When cancer is completely contained within small polyps, treatment may consist of polyp removal and evaluation, followed by regular monitoring. Larger polyps can be removed with minimally invasive procedures using a special instrument called a laparoscope, which is designed to be used with very small incisions. Larger tumors including those that have metastasized (invaded areas beyond the bowel) will need more extensive surgery to remove the tumor and usually part of the colon as well. Additional tissue may also need to be removed. Radiation or chemotherapy (or both) are often recommended following more extensive surgery to help destroy cancer cells elsewhere in the body.
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