What It Is
Colon cancer is cancer of the large intestine. “The cancer usually starts as a polyp, a benign lesion that can become cancerous over time,” says Dr. Hageboutros. “That lag time depends on the individual, which is why everyone should have a colonoscopy by age 50, and sooner if they have a family history of colon cancer.”
Diarrhea or constipation, feeling that the bowel doesn’t empty completely, blood in stool, feeling bloated, abdominal discomfort (gas pains, cramps), unexplained weight loss, fatigue, nausea or vomiting
There are four primary treatment options: surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and targeted therapies.
A colectomy involves the removal of the cancerous tumor or tumors, segments of the colon on each side of the cancer site, and surrounding lymph nodes. The surgery can be performed by cutting an incision in the abdomen or laparoscopically.
Radiation uses high-energy rays to damage cancer cells’ DNA, which thus slows or stops cell division and is primarily used to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence after surgery. The treatment also affects normal cells, but they are more capable of repairing themselves than cancer cells.
For those whose cancer has metastasized, chemotherapy involves the use of oral or intravenous drugs that attack cancer cells that have spread beyond the initial diagnosed site. Chemotherapy is particularly effective at stemming rapid cell division, which therefore makes it efficient at stopping the uncontrollable growth of cancer cells.
Targeted Drug Therapies
Used to treat advanced colon cancer and often times used in conjunction with chemotherapy, targeted drug therapies attack only cancer cells, focusing on specific defects that enable them to grow rapidly. The drug Bevacizumab, for instance, helps keep tumors from developing new blood vessels, which provide the oxygen and nutrients necessary for cancerous tumors to survive.