The colon is the large intestines or large bowel. It is 15 or more feet long. Its main function is to digest the food you eat. The rectum is the tube that connects the colon to the anus. The anus is the opening at the end of gastrointestinal tract. The urge to have a bowel movement occurs when stool enters the rectum. When you suppress the urge, the rectum temporarily stores the stool until you empty your bowels. How often you empty your stool varies from three times a day to three times a week depending on how much fiber you have in your diet.
The colon has other important functions including absorbing water and salts, and it contains millions of bacteria that break down proteins from the food you eat to produce amino acids, the building blocks of the body tissues. It also makes the vitamins B and K which are vital to life.
Colorectal cancer (colon cancer) is a type of cancer that begins in the colon or rectum when cells grow out of control. It is the third most common cancer in men and women in the United States.
Most cases of colon cancer develop from small, noncancerous (benign) growths called polyps. Over time, these polyps can become cancerous. Colon cancer often doesn’t cause any symptoms until it’s advanced. That’s why it’s important to get screened for colon cancer regularly, even if you don’t have any symptoms. Screening tests like a colonoscopy can find polyps before they become cancer. Other screening tests can identify abnormal cells at an early stage so they can be treated when treatment works best.
Screening for colon cancer is important, even if you don’t have any symptoms. There are several different ways to screen for colon cancer, including a colonoscopy which is considered the Gold Standard, a special CT Scan called colonography, or a sigmoidoscopy. A newer option is Cologuard, an at-home test. Your doctor will decide which screening test is best for you based on your age, medical history, and other factors.
Current recommendations are that screening should begin at age 45. However, if you have risk factors such as a family member wit colon cancer or polyps, you should be screened earlier. Contact your GI doctor at Gastroenterology of Brooklyn to discuss.
At Gastroenterology Associates of Brooklyn, we strongly encourage you to become aware of your gastrointestinal health before there is a problem. Colon cancer screening is vital to protecting your health.
- Your age: the risk increases with age. 90% of cases are diagnosed in individuals aged 50 and older. Most colon cancer is diagnosed in individuals ages 50-60.
- A family history (Most colon cancers in the U.S. are sporadic, meaning there is no family history)
- A personal history of breast, uterine or ovarian cancer
- A genetic syndrome that is inherited
- Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Modifiable lifestyle factors include:
- a diet low in fruits and vegetables
- lack of regular exercise
- low fiber and high fat diet or eating a lot of processed meats
- being overweight
- alcohol consumption
- tobacco use
Colorectal cancer usually causes no symptoms in the early stages, which is why regular screening is so important. Some symptoms that should cause you to see your gastroenterologist include:
- Changes in bowel habits – constipation and diarrhea
- Bloating and swelling
- Bloody stool ( It should not be assumed to be a hemorrhoid)
- Feeling the need to go even when there is no stool
- Abdominal pain, cramps and aches that do not go away
- Unexplained weight loss
- Anemia (low blood count)
Your GI doctor will review your medical history, risk factors, and ask about your symptoms. They will perform a physical exam to feel you abdomen for masses or enlarged organs and perform a digital rectal exam, inserting a glove finger into the rectum to feel for anything abnormal. They may recommend a stool test to look for blood. Blood tests will be ordered.
Colon cancer is most often diagnosed through a colonoscopy. During a colonoscopy, your doctor inserts a long, flexible camera into your rectum and colon to look for abnormal growths. If any are found, your doctor may take a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. If benign polyps, that can become cancerous, are found, they will be removed.
If you have been diagnosed, other tests will help to determine the stage of your cancer and the most appropriate treatments.
If you are diagnosed with colon cancer, there are many treatment options available. Treatment depends on the stage of the cancer and your overall health. Surgery to remove the cancer is almost always required. Chemotherapy may be offered before or after surgery depending on the stage of your cancer. Radiation therapy is usually only used to treat rectal cancer.
About one in 20 Americans will develop colon cancer in their lifetime. It is in your best interest to schedule a consultation with Gastroenterology Associates of Brooklyn when you have symptoms, are aged 45 or older, and or to address your concerns and discuss your risks. You will always be treated with respect and compassion.