What Is Bowel Cancer? Symptoms and Treatment

Colorectal cancer or bowel cancer is a type of cancer that forms from uncontrolled cell growth. This growth originates in portions of the large intestine; although it also may form in the appendix. Perhaps unsurprisingly, bowel cancer forms from the cells lining the organ.

This form of cancer mainly affects the large bowel, while the small bowels remain relatively cancer-free. The condition is the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths. At least six percent of people in Western countries end up developing the condition. Bowel cancer is curable in 40 to 50 percent of most cases, generally with the help of surgical intervention.

How does the condition form?

The cells in the colon may undergo a series of ‘mutations,’ controlling how the cells there divide and survive. When the cells start dividing in an uncontrollable manner, the result may produce a clump of malignant or cancerous cells. Polyps or an adenoma, clumps of abnormal cells resting on the end of a normal cell stalk, form after these mutations take place.

During this phase, the adenoma is considered pre-cancerous; just five percent of these malignant polyps become cancerous, sometimes life-threatening in nature. This happens when the polyp starts swelling over a long period of time. The abnormal cells start infiltrating the polyp, later spreading to the underlying colon tissue where the polyp resides. At this point, the cancer starts appearing in affected patients.

What are the symptoms?

Bowel cancer’s many symptoms start once the cancer infiltrates a patient’s colon tissue. Constipation is a common symptom, once the cancerous growth starts to block a portion of the lower bowels. If the bowel becomes completely obstructed, a patient generally starts experiencing severe abdominal pain and vomiting.

Cancerous growths in the proximal colon’s lumen portion are likely to cause symptoms of innate tiredness, shortness of breath and bouts of nausea. Bleeding from the rectum is also a common symptom, which may lead to the loss of blood over time.

Is treatment possible?

Treatment for bowel cancer involves surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and biological therapy. Surgery is the most common treatment for bowel cancer, though some patients require chemotherapy in advanced stages of the disease.

In surgery, the infected portions of the bowels are removed, according to the cancer’s stage of progression. In the first three stages of progression there is a requirement for surgical treatment to remove the cancerous tissue, coupled with chemotherapy for stages two and three. Stage four of the illness doesn’t have an absolute cure, though can be slowed by using the aforementioned four treatments.

Colon Cancer: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Colon Cancer Symptoms

Cancer of the colon is one of the most frequently diagnosed cancer types, the symptoms of which can be manifested in different ways. Listed below are the most widely reported symptoms of the disease, which should never be overlooked. So, if you notice any of them, there is no time to wait. This does not necessarily mean that you have cancer, because the symptoms may be associated with other diseases. However, it is better to undergo a series of tests to find out whether you need medical help or not. Thus, the most common colon cancer symptoms include:

  • Bleeding from the rectum and blood in the stool or on the underwear (by the way, many people mistakenly tend to associate these symptoms with hemorrhoids and lose precious time required to save their lives)
  • Terry or black stool, which is observed on a regular basis (the thing is that blood in the stool may not be that obvious and if the tumor is located in the distant parts of the colon, the blood may be digested, thus causing the black color of the stool)
  • Low hemoglobin levels in the blood, which is the sign of constant hidden bleeding in the organism
  • Fatigue, loss of consciousness, recurrent dizziness, persistent weight loss
  • Diarrhea, constipation or the feeling of insufficient bowel movement
  • Bowel obstruction, which mostly develops, when the tumor is large enough not to allow proper colon functioning. These situations just cannot be left unnoticed, because the condition of a patient gets worse with every passing day. The symptoms of bowel obstruction include repeated bloating, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, abdominal pain, enormously sticking belly (or parts of it), narrow or ribbon-like stool, change of the regular bowel movement process, the feeling of incomplete bowel evacuation etc.

Experts underline that the average duration of these symptoms lasts for about 2 weeks. This is the time needed to a person to understand that something bad is going on in the organism and seek medical help.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Before diagnosing colon cancer, a doctor recommends a patient to undergo a series of analyses and medical tests. These include:

  • Blood, urine and stool tests
  • Fecal occult blood testing (FOBT)
  • Digital or physical rectal exam
  • Colonoscopy, which is an obligatory endoscopic test that is generally done with the use of sedative medications and shows, what is going on inside the colon and can identify the existence and exact location of the tumor, polyps or other problems
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy, which is needed to examine the rectum and the lower parts of the colon
  • Computer tomography colonography
  • Anti-contrast barium enema followed by the X-ray procedure

If you have been diagnosed with colon cancer on time, you have to find out as much as you can about all the possible colon cancer treatment methods, which are the most effective and safe in your case. As of today, these treatments methods are as follows:

  • Surgical intervention, which implies removing the affected part of the colon
  • Chemotherapy, which follows the surgery and may help prevent the advanced development of the disease in case the tumor has affected the lymph nodes
  • Radioactive treatment, which also follows the surgery and is especially effective in the treatment of patients suffering from rectal cancer. The procedure is not quite effective, when it comes to curing the patients with colon cancer.
  • In cases of the colorectal type of the disease, doctors may decide to create a permanent or temporary colostomy. While the latter variant is a temporary solution, which is required to restore the functioning of the colon after the surgery, the permanent colostomy may be left for a lifetime, thus triggering many problems and stresses. The decision depends upon the type, location and stage of colon cancer you have, the treatment and the prognoses of oncologists.

Anyway, your doctor will make everything possible to help you get rid of the disease and resume your previous lifestyle. However, you will have to see your oncologist and undergo a series of tests and procedures on a regular basis to prevent the development of the new forms of the disease.

Colon Rectal Cancer Treatment

Being diagnosed with colon rectal cancer is a stressful time for anyone. Colon rectal cancer occurs when there are malignant cancer cells that develop and grow in the tissues of the colon. The colon is part of human’s digestive system. Having a healthy digestive system is important to ensuring our overall sense of well-being. It is the hub where wastes are removed promptly out of our body and it is responsible for processing and absorbing all the crucial nutrients, vitamins, carbohydrates, proteins, fats, water and minerals.

Not everybody falls into the high-risk group of patients who develop colon rectal cancer. Some people are more at risk than the others. The factors include someone who is at or over the age of fifty, someone who has a family medical history of colon cancer, a personal history of suffering from ovarian cancer, rectal cancer, endometrium or breast cancer, and a history of having polyps in the colon. Polyps are small pieces of bulging tissues in your colon.

Other risk factors include hereditary conditions such as familial adenomatous polyposis and hereditary nonpolyposis. A medical history of ulcerative colitis which is finding ulcers in the lining of the large intestine or Crohn disease will also predispose you to colon cancer. Knowing these factors help us keep an eye on the health of our colon and make us more aware of the symptoms to watch out for.

Early diagnosis can often mean more effective treatment against colon cancer. So do not delay seeing a doctor if you notice a drastic change in your bowel habits, bloody stool, severe constipation, diarrhoea, thinner stool, sudden fatigue, vomiting, severe bloating and gas pains that just do not seem to go away. One of the reasons why you should always consult a doctor immediately after noticing these unusual and abnormal symptoms is because many of these symptoms are often also associated with other conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease.

It may take time for the doctor to get to the bottom of your condition and often with cancer, the sooner the correct diagnosis is given, the higher the chance you stand to beat this disease, time is indeed precious. Doctors could start with the standard physical examination to find lumps in your colon area and probe further into your health habits, family history of colon cancer and past illnesses. Faecal occult blood test is normally done for laboratory testing. Digital rectal examination can also be performed to help detect unusual growth in your rectum. Colonoscopy could also be used to look for polyps and abnormal areas. This procedure can remove a sample of polyps or tissues to test of signs of cancer.

Biopsy is normally conducted by a pathologist to check for cancerous cells. Colon rectal cancer can be generally defined in stage zero to stage four. The best treatment for stage zero colon cancer is local excision or a simple polypectomy. If the tumour is too big to be removed by local excision, then resection or anastomosis will be opted. Stage one follows the same treatment options. Apart from resection or anastomosis, stage two and three colon cancer may benefit from chemotherapy, radiation therapy or monoclonal antibody therapy after surgery. Stage four and recurring colon cancer will benefit from all of the above and for more severe cases may require surgery to remove parts of the other organs such as the liver, lungs and ovaries where cancer may have spread to and palliative therapy to relieve the symptoms rather than a cure.