Understanding Colon Cancer
When detected early, colon cancer can be cured.
Symptoms of Colon Cancer
Screening is especially important in detecting colon cancer because sometimes the disease progresses without symptoms or the symptoms are attributed to other causes. For example, some patients bleed internally, but they don't realize they're losing blood until a routine medical exam shows anemia.
Symptoms can include:
- Weight loss
- Abdominal pain
- Bloody stool
Colon Cancer Screening
The screening we recommend is a colonoscopy at age fifty for most people. In most cases, unless we find a cancer or a polyp, you won't need a colonoscopy again for ten years. People with a family history of colon cancer should be screened generally when they're forty years old at the latest or ten years younger than their relative was when diagnosed. For example, if your father was diagnosed with colon cancer when he was forty-five, you should be screened at age thirty-five.
Although the preparation the night before a colonoscopy is unpleasant, you'll be sedated for the procedure itself. You won't feel the probe or know that anyone is taking a picture of the inside of your colon.
Reduce the Risk of Colon Cancer
In addition to getting screened, you can reduce your risk of colon cancer in the following ways:
- Eat a high-fiber, low-fat diet that contains lots of grains, fruits and vegetables
- Limit how much meat you eat
- Avoid processed food
- Use olive oil for cooking
- Quit smoking
- Exercise regularly
Studies have shown that aspirin and other anti-inflammatory drugs may help prevent colon cancer. Inflammation is the body's response to stress. It helps the body heal wounds and other injuries. But we believe that inflammation also triggers cancer cell growth and that blocking those signals likely prevents that growth.
In the medical community, we've come to understand that every cancer is different, but the idea of cancer as a single disease remains deeply ingrained in our culture.
You can make the most informed decisions about your treatment once you understand:
- How colon cancer differs from other cancers
- How your case differs from other patients with colon cancer
- How advanced your cancer is
- The treatment options available
Colon Cancer Treatment
Treatment for colon cancer begins with surgery. A surgeon removes the cancerous portion of the colon. Patients are referred to the Comprehensive Cancer Center at Wake Forest Baptist Health after surgery. We evaluate the chances of recurrence and treatment options.
Colon Cancer Stages
For each colon cancer case, the cancer is described as Stage One, Two, Three or Four.
- Cancer has not invaded the muscular layer of the colon wall
- Does not require further treatment after surgery
- Cancer has fully invaded the colon wall
- Cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes
Patients with Stage Two colon cancer have to decide whether to get chemotherapy. In eighty percent of those cases, surgery alone will prevent recurrence. But that means that twenty percent of these patients will suffer recurrence without chemotherapy. In some cases, testing of the tumor can identify cancers likely to recur. But in other cases, patients must weigh the side effects of chemotherapy against the risk of recurrence. Most patients tolerate the newer chemotherapy drugs.
- Cancer has spread to local lymph nodes
- Cancer has spread to another organ
Some of these cases almost always require chemotherapy. Advances have been made in the number of drugs approved for colon cancer. Today, at least seven drugs are approved for treating colon cancer, and even in many of the more advanced cases, these drugs prevent recurrence.
New patients may request an appointment at the Comprehensive Cancer Center of Wake Forest Baptist Health by using our online form.
Learn more about the cancers we treat at Wake Forest Baptist.