Hematochezia or blood in stool can signify various medical conditions that a person needs to be aware of. While the common causes of bloody stool can either be anal fissures or hemorrhoids, sometimes it can represent serious health conditions like colon cancer.
However, the problem with colon cancer is it is asymptomatic. A patient will not feel any signs and symptoms until it is too late to address the cancer. Moreover, some of its common symptoms can be associated with other rectal diseases such as diarrhea, hemorrhoids, and constipation. Given that, a patient can still determine if he/she has colon cancer by understanding its causes, how it progresses, and what treatment options are available.
Understanding Colon Cancer
Just like any cancer types, colon cancer results from extra or abnormal growth of cells in the colon or rectum region. This particular cancer type starts with polyps or tissue growth in the colon. Polyps can either be cancerous or not. The type of polyp that develops into cancer is the adenoma. If the doctor sees these polyps early on, he/she can remove this through surgery to prevent it from becoming cancer.
According to data from the American Cancer Society, more than 95 percent of colon and rectal cancers are called as adenocarcinomas. They develop in the cells that are found inside the rectum and colon. If not treated early, they can progress to colon cancer.
In the United States, about 10 percent of the population dies from colon cancer. As a matter of fact, colon cancer is considered as the third most diagnosed cancer across the globe.
Possible causes of colon cancer
While the possible causes of colon cancer are yet to be determined, scientists have identified certain risk factors for having it, and they are the following:
- Old age. People aged 50 years old and above are more at risk of getting colon cancer.
- History of bowel diseases
- Acquiring polyps in the past
- Family history of cancer, especially colon cancer
- Hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer
- Ethnic background
There are also certain activities that people do that can increase their risk for having colon cancer such as drinking too much alcohol and smoking.
Signs and Symptoms
As mentioned earlier, colon cancer goes without any severe signs and symptoms. But here are several changes that a person should be aware of:
- Change in bowel movement. If passing of stool is more frequent or less than the usual, this can be a telltale sign of colon cancer.
- Alternating days of constipation and diarrhea
- Stools that is thinner than the usual. This means that there is a blockage in the pathway of the anus.
- Bloating, cramps, abdominal pains, and gas pains
- Blood in the stools or black stools
Aside from these changes in the colon system, there are also other systemic symptoms of colon cancer and they are the following:
- Unexpected weight loss
- Loss of appetite and fatigue
Early detection of colon cancer
Undergoing tests can help doctors in detecting at what stage of colon cancer the patient is already in. Some of the tests that should be done to confirm colon cancer include the following:
- Virtual colonoscopy
- Double contrast barium enema
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy
Aside from these, there are specific tests such as fecal immunochemical test, fecal occult blood test, and immunochemical fecal blood occult blood test can detect colon cancer only.
Treatment and Prevention of Colon Cancer
Early detection is an effective way of preventing colon cancer from developing. If the physician suspects that a patient has polyps in the rectum and anus, surgery should be done to remove the polyps whether they are cancerous or not. There are times also wherein chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and radiation therapy are needed to prevent the cancer cells from spreading to other parts of the body.
Regarding prevention, most cases of colon cancer can be prevented through lifestyle changes and health monitoring.