Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death, and the third most common type of cancer in the United States. This year, over 134,000 cases of colon cancer will be diagnosed in the United States, according to the U.S. National Cancer Institute.
What is colon cancer?
Colon cancer is a malignant tumor of the large intestine (colon and rectum), the most distal or lower part of your digestive system. It most often starts when cells in a polyp begin growing aggressively, invading progressively into the deeper layers of the colon or rectum and beyond. Malignant cells can subsequently potentially travel through the lymphatic system to the regional lymph nodes and through the bloodstream to distant organs, such as liver, lungs, bones and others.
What causes colon cancer?
Health experts aren’t sure exactly what causes colorectal cancer but many factors may play a part. Here is a list of the risk factors that may increase your risk of developing colon cancer:
- A personal history of certain types of polyps.
- Older age. Colon cancer is most commonly diagnosed in adults 50 and older.
- People who are obese have an increased risk of developing colon cancer and an increased risk of dying of colon cancer when compared with people considered normal weight.
- African-American race. African-Americans have a higher risk of colon cancer than do people of other races.
- Inflammatory intestinal conditions. Chronic inflammatory diseases of the colon, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, can increase your risk of developing colon cancer.
- Inherited syndromes. Genetic syndromes passed through generations of your family can increase your risk of developing colon cancer.
- Family history of colon cancer. You’re more likely to develop colon cancer if you have a parent, sibling or child with the disease.
- Low-fiber, high-fat diet. Colon cancer and rectal cancer may be associated with a diet low in fiber and high in saturated fat and calories.
- A sedentary lifestyle. If you’re inactive, you are more likely to develop colon cancer.
- People with diabetes and insulin resistance have an increased risk of developing colon cancer.
- People who smoke may have an increased risk.
- Heavy use of alcohol.
What are the symptoms?
People with colorectal cancer often do not have symptoms right away. Although experiencing symptoms, it does not necessarily mean advanced cancer, detecting and treating colon or rectum cancer earlier, before symptoms appear, gives the patient a very significant advantage and chance of achieving a cure from the disease. If any of these symptoms appear, please contact your healthcare provider:
- A change in bowel habits that lasts for more than a few days, including diarrhea, constipation, or a sensation that your bowel is still not empty after a bowel movement.
- Bright red or very dark blood in your stool
- Constant tiredness
- Pica (unusual food cravings), such as for ice
- Stools that are thinner than usual
- Stools that appear slimy or that have a mucous film on them
- Persistent gas pains, bloating, fullness, or cramps
- Unexplained weight loss
Regular screenings are vital to preventing colorectal cancer. They can help find the cancer early, when it’s easier to treat. Experts recommend everyone age 50 or older be screened for the disease. If you are at an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer, you may need to begin colorectal cancer screening before age 50.
To find a physician, visit touro.com/findadoc or call (504) 897-7777.
Dr. Salvador Caputto is a Hematologist and Medical Oncologist with Crescent City Physicians, Inc., a subsidiary of Touro Infirmary. He is Board Certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine and the American Board of Hematology. Dr. Caputto has been a member of the Touro medical staff for over 30 years and served on both the Touro Governing and Foundation Boards and is a member of the Judah Touro Society. He has also served as Chief of Hematology and Oncology and as Medical Director of the Touro Infirmary Cancer Treatment Unit. Dr. Caputto treats patients at his clinic on Touro Infirmary’s Campus, 1401 Foucher Street.