The colon, along with the rectum, comprise the large intestine, or bowel, and are part of the digestive system.
The colon, which is approximately six feet in length, absorbs nutrients from the food we eat, water, and electrolytes, and transports them into the bloodstream.
It is located in the abdominal area between the small intestine and the anus, and consists of:
the cecum, which connects to the small intestine,
the ascending colon, located in the right side of the lower abdomen, which travels upward;
the transverse colon, located across the lower abdominal area below the stomach;
the descending colon, which travels down the left side of the abdomen, and
the sigmoid colon, which leads to the rectum.
Colon cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, or bowel cancer, can occur anywhere in the large intestine, including the rectum, however, most occur in the ascending colon.
It is thought to be caused by polyps, which are extra tissue that can grow within the colon. Polyps begin as benign (non-cancerous) growth, but can become cancerous over time.
Colon cancer usually occurs in people over the age of 50, but can occur at any age. It occurs equally in men and women, however, compared to Caucasians, African Americans and people of Jewish ancestry have a higher incidence of developing this type of cancer.
Almost all colon and rectal cancers are adenocarcinomas, which are cancers of the cells that line the inside of the colon and rectum.
- Family or personal history of the disease
- Personal history of colon polyps.
- Personal history of chronic inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.
- Personal history of diabetes.
- Diet consisting of mostly high fat foods.
- Heavy use of alcohol.
- Lack of exercise.
- Being overweight.
Colon cancer usually has no symptoms in its early stages; however, there are some symptoms that may be a sign of this disease:
- A change in bowel habits such as constipation or diarrhea lasting more than two weeks;
- Blood in the stool;
- Pain and or tenderness in the lower abdomen;
- Cramps and/or bloating;
- Weight loss with no apparent reason;
- Narrow stools.
If colon cancer is detected and treated early, survival rates are high. However, survival rates are greatly reduced once the cancer has metastasized to other parts of the body.
With proper screening, colon cancer can be detected early, before the development of symptoms, when it is most curable.