A diagnosis of colon cancer invariably leads to the question, “what next?” for any patient. We are unwilling participants in a club no one ever wants to join – with millions of other members – and yet we are inexorably linked to the rules of that club – finding the most effective cancer treatment in a setting that meets with our personal standards of care.
How common is colon cancer?
Colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in both men and women. It is also the third leading cause of cancer-related death in the U.S. The good news, however is that colon cancer is also a very survivable cancer – one that can be easily treated. Many people diagnosed with colon cancer move forward with their treatment and are able to move on with their lives, cancer-free.
What is colon cancer?
The colon is a part of the digestive system. Once food is digested by the stomach and small intestine, the nutrients from that food are absorbed by the body and used for energy. Anything left over – the waste – moves onto the colon where fluid is absorbed before it is passed out through the rectum. Colon cancer typically develops very slowly over many years, starting as small growths called polyps. Most polyps are non-cancerous while others have the potential to eventually become cancerous.
What are the Symptoms?
There are typically few if any symptoms with the early stages of colon cancer making regular screenings so important. When allowed to advance, colon cancer in its later stages can produce changes in bowel movements, blood in the stool, abdominal pain that persists, and unexplained weight loss.
Colon cancer is typically diagnosed through a regular screening that includes a CT scan or colonoscopy. Once a cancer diagnosis is made, the physician will perform tests to determine the stage of cancer so that an appropriate treatment plan can be designed.