‘Some studies have found an increased risk of colon cancer in people who eat diets high in red meat and processed meat’.
I woke up this morning to the sad news of the demise of a popular Hollywood actor,who battled colon cancer.It dawned on me i have not written any article on colon cancer-one of the most common cancers .So today i decided to write about colon cancer and create more awareness on the measures we can take to help reduce the risk of colon cancer.
Bowel cancer is a general term for cancer that begins in the large bowel. Depending on where the cancer starts, bowel cancer is sometimes called colon or rectal cancer.
Colon cancer is a type of cancer that affects the large intestine (colon). The colon is part of the digestive tract,and is found towards the end of the digestive tract.Colon cancer is a type of bowel cancer. Colon cancer is sometimes called colorectal cancer, which is a term that combines colon cancer and rectal cancer.
Signs and symptoms of colon cancer include:
‘Many people with colon cancer experience no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. When symptoms appear, they’ll likely vary, depending on the cancer’s size and location in your large intestine’.(Mayo Clinic)
These symptoms need to be taken seriously especially when they persist for a long time.If your symptoms have persisted for more than 4 weeks ,you should seek medical intervention immediately .This does not mean you have colon cancer but it’s highly important you complete the necessary tests.
- A persistent change in your bowel habits, including diarrhoea or constipation or a change in the consistency of your stool
- Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool
- Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain
- A feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely
- Weakness or fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
The exact cause of colon cancer is not fully understood,In general just like other cancers, colon cancer begins when healthy cells in the colon start to manifest changes in their DNA,A cell’s DNA contains a set of instructions that tell a cell what to do.
The cells can become cancerous when the DNA is damaged and begin to divide and grow out of proportion until they accumulate to form a tumour.With time, the cancer cells can invade and destroy normal tissue nearby. And cancerous cells can travel to other parts of the body to form deposits there (metastasis)
Risk factors are factors that may increase an individuals risk of developing colon cancer,they include (list is not exhaustive):
- Age- almost 9 in 10 people with bowel cancer are aged 60 or over
- Diet-a diet high in red or processed meats and low in fibre can increase your risk
- Weight-bowel cancer is more common in overweight or obese people
- Exercise-being inactive increases your risk of getting bowel cancer
- Alcohol-drinking alcohol might increase your risk of getting bowel cancer
- Smoking-smoking may increase your chances of getting bowel cancer
- Family history having a close relative- (mother or father, brother or sister) who developed bowel cancer under the age of 50 puts you at a greater lifetime risk of developing the condition; screening is offered to people in this situation,please see your doctor if you have a family history of colon cancer.
- Radiation therapy for cancer- Radiation therapy directed at the abdomen to treat previous cancers increases the risk of colon cancer.
- Inflammatory intestinal conditions- Chronic inflammatory diseases of the colon, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, can increase your risk of colon cancer.
- African-American race- African-Americans have a greater risk of colon cancer than do people of other races.
Clinicians have recommend that people with an average risk of colon cancer consider colon cancer screening around age 50,but screening could start earlier than 50.There are different screening options to choose from.Please discuss your options with your clinician.
Lifestyle changes that could reduce your risk of developing colon cancer
You can adopt the following lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of developing colon cancer:
- Engage in healthy eating- Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains
- Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all- Stick to the recommended units for alcohol consumption if you must consume alcohol
- Stop smoking- Quitting smoking would reduce your risk of developing colon cancer, if you are struggling to quit smoking on your own, speak to your clinician or your stop smoking advisor, there are nicotine replacement therapy products that could help you with quitting smoking
- Exercise most days of the week- target to achieve at least 30 minutes exercise per day, this could be a simple walk in the park,walking the dog etc, avoid sedentary lifestyle as much as possible.
- Maintain a healthy weight- Find out your body mass index (BMI) and ensure you maintain a normal BMI,also note BMI measurement is not suitable in all conditions for instance pregnant women , body builders. Discuss your height and weight with your pharmacist for healthy weight/BMI advise
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned in this article, please seek urgent medical intervention.Also note that these symptoms are common with other diseases as well, so experiencing the symptoms does not mean you have colon cancer.
This article was written in memory of Chadwick Boseman,who sadly passed away after a 4 year battle with colon cancer,aged 43
Article curated by Adaku Efuribe