Colon Cancer Symptoms, Treatment, Diagnosis, and Stages


Today I'll give you a detailed overview of colon cancer.  I'll discuss colon cancer symptoms, treatment, diagnosis and stages.  Here's everything you need to know.


Ever since Nene and Greg of the Real Housewives of Atlanta have been so open in sharing Greg's diagnosis with colon cancer, I have been getting a lot of really excellent questions about colon cancer. What is colon cancer? Am I at risk for colon cancer? When should I be screened for colon cancer?


Colon cancer is the 3rd most common cancer in both men and women.


Men are more likely to get colon cancer than women, and African Americans have the highest rate of colon cancer of all ethnic groups in the United States.


The good news is that colon cancer is potentially preventable and treatable, especially when caught early on. Over the next several minutes I will discuss colon cancer.  I'll give an overview by talking about the definition of colon cancer, the risk factors, the symptoms and when to get screened.


I hope to empower you to go out and to fight that good fight against colon cancer.


What is colon cancer?

Colon cancer occurs when there is a malignant growth or tumor in the large intestine, also known as the colon, and or in the rectum. The large intestine and the rectum are at the tail end of the digestive system.


Now there are many celebrities who have been very gracious in sharing their journeys with colon cancer, including Darryl Strawberry, Sharon Osborne, and the notorious RBG, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.


What are the risk factors for colon cancer?

Advanced age is the major risk factor for colon cancer. In fact, 90% of people diagnosed with colon cancer, are older than the age of 50. Now that being said, you can be a young person and still get colon cancer.


Darryl Strawberry was only 36 years old when he was diagnosed with colon cancer and Katie Couric's late husband, Jay Monahan, died at the age of 42 in 1998 with colon cancer. So there can be at risk at different ages.


colon cancer symptoms, treatment, diagnosis and stages


Other risk factors include obesity, cigarette smoking, and excessive alcohol use. Your lifestyle has a lot to do with your risk. If you have a high-fat diet or a diet that is high in processed meats, that's a risk factor for colon cancer. Also having a low fiber diet puts you at risk for colon cancer.


Certain diseases and certain illnesses will put you at risk for colon cancer as well, including Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis and if you have a genetic disease that predisposes you to polyps in the colon, such as familial adenomatous polyposis, that's a major risk factor for colon cancer as well.


What are the symptoms of colon cancer?

One common symptom is that you may have a change in your bowel habits. You can develop either constipation or diarrhea and this could be a symptom of colon cancer. Also, the caliber of your stools may change. For example, you could develop really pencil thin stools. Bright red blood in your stools can be a symptom of colon cancer, as well really dark, tarry black stools.


If you're losing blood in your stool from colon cancer, you can get a low blood count or become very anemic. And then a symptom can be just weakness and fatigue. Other symptoms of colon cancer may include abdominal pain, abdominal cramping and bloating, also, unintentional weight loss. If you are just dropping weight and you're not even trying, unintentional weight loss can be a major symptom of colon cancer.


But remember, you may have no symptoms of colon cancer at all, which is why it is so important to be screened for colon cancer.


Colon cancer screening, what's the purpose?

The purpose of colon cancer screening is to detect pre-cancerous polyps or growths in the colon before they have the chance to turn into colon cancer or to detect colon cancer early before it has the chance to spread.


There are different types of colon cancer screening tools. A colonoscopy is one that you probably have heard of. Now, the colonoscopy actually is when a camera or an endoscope is placed in through the rectum and is able to see the entire colon. It's able to pick up on different types of polyps or growths, and you can actually biopsy or take samples of colon growths with the colonoscopy.


Another screening tool is a sigmoidoscopy. Now, this is also a form of endoscopy but with the sigmoidoscopy, the entire colon cannot be seen. In fact, only the very tail end of the colon and the rectum, that descending colon and the rectum, are really able to be seen well with the sigmoidoscopy. But it is another screening tool that is offered.


You also have the fecal occult blood test. This is when you place a stool sample on a card, even if you're not able to see the blood with the naked eye, if there is blood, this test will pick it up.


Then there this the CT colonography, or a virtual colonoscopy. This is when there's just radiographic imaging or a CT scan that is able to reproduce three-dimensional images from inside of the colon, to show if there are colon polyps or colon masses.


There is another stool test that actually tests, not only for blood but also for certain DNA markers that can be a sign of colon cancer. So there are all types of colon screening tools available. Again, the colonoscopy is one that has been tried and true and one that you're probably very familiar with.


colon cancer screening


How often should you be screened for colon cancer once you've had that initial screening?

It varies from patient to patient and it really is a discussion that you must have with your physician. But just a general plan for the screening, if you're an average risk patient for colon cancer are as follows:


  • Colonoscopy every 10 years
  • Sigmoidoscopy every 5
  • Stool for occult blood every year
  • DNA stool testing every 3 years
  • CT colonography every 5 years.


Again, this will vary from patient to patient, but that's just a general overview of colon cancer screening for the average risk patient.


When should you start screening for colon cancer?

According to the American Cancer Society, the initial screening for colon cancer for a patient who is at average risk should be at the age of 45. Now, if you are at a higher risk, then you should be screened earlier than this.


For example, if you have a first degree relative with colon cancer at a young age, or if you have two or more first degree relatives with colon cancer diagnosed at any age, then you should have your initial colon cancer screening at the age of 40, or at the age that is 10 years younger than the age at which your family member was diagnosed. Whichever age is the youngest, is the age when you should be screened.


For example, if you have a parent who was diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 45, then you should have your initial colon cancer screening no later than the age of 35.


How is colon cancer diagnosed?

Colon cancer is diagnosed once you've been screened and a biopsy has been conducted or a sample of the tissue from within the colon growth has been taken.


That sample is sent to a pathologist who looks at it under the microscope, performs certain tests and if indeed that lesion is colon cancer, the colon cancer is then staged.


What Are The Stages Of Colon Cancer?

There are four stages of colon cancer. Stage 1 is the early stage when the colon cancer has invaded the wall of the colon but it has not actually gone through the wall of the colon.


And then the last stage is Stage 4, which is when the colon cancer has actually spread or metastasized to other organs. Stages 1 through 3 are considered the relatively lower risk stages and they can be treated with surgery, with or without chemotherapy.


If you have Stage 4 colon cancer, then chemotherapy is usually an option of choice. But again, it's important that you have this discussion with your physician, your oncologist, and your colorectal surgeon because it will vary from patient to patient.


This ends my overview of colon cancer, I want you to comment down below and share your story. Your story can be a blessing to someone else, it can help to teach other people.


I want you to take care of you and prioritize yourself and your health. Find out when you need to be screened for colon cancer and share this information with your with loved ones.


As always, I want you to do your best to live your healthiest, happiest life.

Dr. Frita - Frita McRae Fisher, M.D.
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  1. RUTH OCALLAGHAN on March 11, 2020 at 5:18 pm

    Thank you! That was rather enlightening. I didn’t know the basics of colon cancer, now I am a much more informed individual. It is my endeavor to use the knowledge wisely.

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