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Overview of Colon Cancer

written by: Donna Cosmato • edited by: Emma Lloyd • updated: 8/26/2010

What is your personal risk factor for colon cancer? Let's find out the answer to that question, and then examine colon cancer causes, treatment, prevention, and symptoms.

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    In this overview of colon cancer, we examine risk factors for this cancer, and answer some frequently asked questions about colon cancer causes, treatment, prevention, and symptoms. Colon cancer can be discovered with diagnostic screening, and the prognosis is good with early treatment.

    Colon Cancer Showing Polyp 

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    What are Some Common Causes of Colon Cancer?

    1. Age is a key factor; according to the University Of Pittsburgh Department Of Human Genetics: 93% of cases occur in people over 50. 1
    2. Dietary factors, such as high fat, no fiber diets, and not eating enough fresh fruits and vegetables, increase one’s risk for colorectal cancer.
    3. Lifestyle factors that pose a risk for individuals include smoking, overeating, excessive drinking, and not exercising enough.
    4. Individuals with a personal history of ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer, or breast cancer are at higher risk for colorectal cancer.
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    What is Colon Cancer and What is the Risk Factor?

    Cancer of the colon, or colorectal cancer, strikes an individual’s colon or rectum. According to Net Wellness, individuals run a lifetime risk of 5% for developing colon cancer, and it is the third most common type of cancer. It is no respecter of persons, as both men and women are at risk, but it is highly preventable and easy to diagnose with current screening technology. Being equipped with information about colon cancer: causes, treatment, and prevention, is the best preventative tool.

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    What are Some Common Genetic Factors?

    Genetics can play a major part in predisposing target groups of people for the risk of colon cancer. Here are some of the recognized genetic factors:

    • Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), also known as Gardner’s syndrome, is an inherited gene that predisposes individuals for the risk of developing an abnormal amount of precancerous polyps.
    • Hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) is an abnormal gene predisposing the target group to the development of precancerous polyps, but in smaller quantities than FAP.
    • Peutz-Jeghers syndrome (PJS) is an inherited disorder causing intestinal polyps and increasing risk for cancer. There are two types: familial PJS, where the gene passes through families, and sporadic PJS, where it does not pass through families.
    • Juvenile polyposis syndrome is a genetic condition that causes benign polyps in the colon, stomach, small intestine, or rectum. Individuals with this inherited condition have an increased risk for developing colon cancer.
    • Family history of relatives, like a parent or sibling, who have had colon cancer.

    If there is a family history of colon cancer, a genetic test for hereditary colon cancer can evaluate an individual's potential risk.

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    What are the Symptoms of Colon Cancer?

    Often called the “silent cancer,” individuals may or may not exhibit any symptoms. Here are some common symptoms of colon cancer:

    • Sudden weight loss
    • Diarrhea, nausea, or constipation
    • Unexplainable fatigue
    • Anemia
    • Blood in the stool (may be hidden or visible)
    • Bloating or abdominal pain

    Individuals who experience these symptoms may not have colon cancer, but would be wise to consult a physician to rule out the possibility of that disease.

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    How is Colon Cancer Treated?

    Let's discuss how colon cancer is treated. Surgery removes the polyps. If early screening has detected the polyps, it may be possible to excise them before they become cancerous. Chemotherapy kills cancer cells, and radiation therapy shrinks the polyps.

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    What is the Best Method of Preventing Colon Cancer?

    Most individuals without an inherited abnormal gene, such as those mentioned above, can avoid the risk of colon cancer by simply following the advice medical experts have touted for years. Eat a diet low in fat and high in fiber. If you already drink, do so in moderation, and if you do not drink, do not start. If you are a smoker, quit. Exercise regularly, and educate yourself about colon cancer cancer and the causes, treatment, prevention, and symptoms.

    Follow the recommended schedule of colorectal cancer diagnostic screenings. The Prevent Cancer Foundation recommends screenings starting at age 50 for those individuals who are not in a high risk factor group, and screenings starting at age 25 for those in high-risk groups. As with any health concern, seek the advice of your personal physician, and follow his recommendations. Please read this disclaimer about the information in this article.

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    Reference Sources

    1 - University of Pittsburgh, Department of Human Genetics, “Colon Cancer,” accessed 08/23/2010

    University of Cincinnati, Net Wellness, “Colon Cancer,” accessed 08/20/2010

    Prevent Cancer Foundation, “Colorectal Cancer Fact Sheet 2009,” accessed 08/23/2010

    University of Maryland Medical Center, “Peutz-Jeghers Syndrome Overview,” accessed 08/23/2010

    The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, “Juvenile Polyposis Syndrome,” accessed 08/23/2010

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    Image Credit

    Wikimedia Commons/Emmanuelm/Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License