Colon cancer is a common malignancy in North America, accounting for approximately 120,000 cancer cases each year. The majority of colon cancers begin as a collection of cells which look like a small balloon (polyp). Over time, the polyp turns into a cancer. The majority of polyps are very small and do not cause symptoms. The current guidelines dictate that after the age of 50, individuals should undergo some type of cancer screening test to ensure that they do not have polyps.
Colon Cancer Risk Factors
Colon cancer is not well understood. Why some people develop the cancer remains a puzzle. The risk factors which increase your chance of developing colon cancer include:
- Age: The majority of people who develop colon cancer are in the 5th to 6th decade of life. Colon cancer before the age of 40 is very unusual.
- Medical History: Individuals who have a history of polyps or a prior colon cancer are at a higher risk of developing colon cancer in the future
- Chronic Bowel Inflammation: Inflammatory bowel disease like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are known to increase the chances of developing colon cancer
- Inherited Disorders: There are some inherited polyposis conditions that can increase the chances of developing colon cancer at a much earlier age. Among these are familial polyposis coli, Turcot’s and Lynch syndrome.
- Diet: Diet has always been thought to increase colon cancer. While the evidence is confounding, it is recommended that eating a diet high in fiber and fruits is better than eating red meat
The other non specific factors that have been associated with colon cancer include:
- Prior Radiation Therapy
Colon Cancer Outlook
The prognosis of colon cancer depends on the extent of the disease prior to treatment. If the tumor is in the early stages (0 or I), the majority of individuals will live five or more years. Once the tumor has spread to adjacent lymph nodes, about 60%-70% of individuals live up to five years. When the colon cancer has spread to distant organs like the liver or the lung, less than 10% of individuals survive five years.
Colon Cancer Prevention
Prevention of colon cancer means a drastic change in lifestyle. The diet should consist of fruits and vegetables with high fiber content. The amount of fat in the food should be reduced. Saturated fats and red meat should not be consumed on a regular basis. Other recommended foods include bananas, broccoli, legumes, whole grains, peas, spinach, dairy food and cereals.
The amount of alcohol consumed should be limited to no more than one drink a day. Some researchers believe that a glass of wine on a daily basis is good. Quitting smoking is highly recommended. This bad social habit not only prevents many cancers but will also keep you young looking. Exercises on a regular basis can help maintain weight and help prevent the complications associated with obesity.