Signs, Treatments & Survival Rates of Colon Cancer

Detecting colon cancer signs early can improve chances of survival. Colon cancer is third on the list of common cancers in the United States. It begins in small polyps on the inside of the intestinal wall. These polyps are usually benign at first, and often have little to no symptoms in the early stages. This is why it is highly recommended to have regular colon cancer screening if you are at risk. Read further to see the symptoms, treatment, and survival rate with early detection.

Symptoms of Colon Cancer

In the early stages, you may not notice any symptoms. The signs of colon cancer can also mimic other health issues like irritable bowel syndrome, hemorrhoids, ulcerative colitis, or crohn's disease.

You may also have to be vigilant for colon cancer signs if you are at a higher risk. Risk factors include family history of colon cancer, low-fiber diet, history of bowel disease, history of colon polyps, smoking, alcohol use, and obesity. If you have risk factors, it is a good idea to get screened before you have symptoms. If you do experience symptoms, they may include:

1. Changes in Bowel Habits 

You may have more or less frequent bowel movements. You may also experience chronic constipation or diarrhea that goes on for four weeks or more.

2. Blood in your Stool

Colon cancer and/or polyps can bleed easily. Hard stools can cause blood to appear in your stools. You can even have unexplained bleeding from your rectum without having a bowel movement. This can often be confused for the type of blood you see with hemorrhoids, but often in larger amounts.

3. Weight Loss 

If you have unexplained weight loss and are not on a diet, this could be one of the symptoms of colon cancer. Your body is using extra energy to fight off the cancer cells and the increase in metabolism can burn extra calories. Cancer cells and tumors also steal your nutrients. Let your doctor know if you have lost more than 5 percent of your body weight in a short amount of time without trying to lose weight.

4. Abdominal Pain and Gas 

You may feel pain in your lower abdomen, cramping, and excess gas. This may be caused by polyps growing larger, or tumors invading the colon wall. You may also develop an intestinal blockage from large polyps or tumors. This can be a medical emergency, so if you have sudden pain and cramping get to an emergency room right away.

5. Anemia

If you have blood loss in your stools, you can become anemic. This may also lead to fatigue and weakness with colon cancer. The iron deficiency may be chronic with colon cancer and you may need to be treated for this issue.

6. Vomiting

Vomiting is a common symptom with many illnesses and may not be attributed to colon cancer. Vomiting may come on suddenly for no reason and be accompanied by cramping in the stomach and constipation. It is usually caused by a large polyp obstructing the bowel.

7. Incomplete Bowel Emptying 

You may feel urgency to move your bowels like they are full all the time. There may also be a feeling that there is stool left in your bowels after having a bowel movement.

8. Feeling of Weakness and Fatigue 

Colon cancer can make your feel more weak and tired. This is often due to bleeding in the colon and the immune system trying to fight off cancer cells.

9. Pencil Stools 

If you have large polyps in the colon, your stools may be more narrow than usual. They often look pencil shaped and thin.

When to See a Doctor

If you experience any of the above symptoms of colon cancer for longer than four consecutive weeks you should see your doctor. If you have large amounts of darker blood without having a bowel movement, go to your nearest emergency room.

Treatments for Colon Cancer

The earlier colon cancer is treated, the better response and chances for survival. Also, the earlier it is treated the treatments tend to be less invasive. Treatments for colon cancer include:

1. Polyp Removal (Often effective if caught early)

2. Mucosal Resection (Removes large polyps and part of colon lining)

3. Partial Colectomy (Part of the colon is removed)

4. Colostomy (Most of the colon is removed. The doctor creates a new opening for stool to leave the body). 

5. Radiation (Shrinks tumors)

6. Chemotherapy (Kills off cancer cells)

7. Targeted Drug Therapy (Targets the cancer directly to stop the growth)

What Is the Survival Rate of Colon Cancer?

There is actually a pretty good survival rate for colon cancer if it is caught early on. Survival rates for colon cancer largely depend on the stage the cancer is at and how your body responds to treatment. There are also new treatments being studied and introduced that help improve the outcome and prognosis.

There are a few different factors that influence the survival rate including:

1. The Stage

Stage I colon cancer has the highest survival rate at 5 years. It averages about 93 percent. People diagnosed in Stage II have about a 72 to 85 percent survival rate. At Stage III it is around 44 to 83 percent. If cancer is found during Stage IV, the survival rate drops to 8 percent.

2. Lymph Node Involvement

Survival rates depend on if the cancer has spread to any nearby lymph nodes. If there is lymph node involvement, the cancer can spread to other areas of the body and the stage goes up in numbers. Once cancer spreads through the lymph nodes it can affect and damage other organs in the body. This requires very aggressive treatment and lowers the prognosis.

3. Surgical Success

If your surgeon is able to remove any and all polyps, you have the best success rate. It is when surgery becomes more invasive that the survival rate can go down. Surgery on the colon can be tricky, especially if the colon cancer has invaded the colon wall.

The above factors may be a little scary, but the good news is most colon cancer is caught early in the polyp stage. Once removed, most go on to live a normal long life. Even if chemo and radiation is needed, the chances of survival are quite good with good health practices.

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