The colon is part of the large intestine, which is the final part of the digestive tract. Its length can vary from 150 to 220 cm. Its main function is to reabsorb fluids and process waste products from the body and prepare for its elimination.
Cancer of the colon, or medically called colorectal cancer, is one of the most common malignant diseases. In fact, colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer in men and fourth in women in the U.S. This article looks into the most common causes of colon cancer, its early symptoms, the treatment methods, and the diet recommended for this disease.
What causes colon cancer
Colorectal cancer stands for tumors inside the colon which typically develop from polyps. Polyps in the colon should certainly be removed in order to prevent their future development into colon cancer when cells begin to divide, thus forming a tumor. The surrounding tissue may also be affected, and cancer cells can detach from the primary tumor and create metastases in other parts of the body. The worst case is when colon cancer spreads to the liver.
There are a number of risk factors including genetic predisposition, family history, Crohn’s disease and frequent colon inflammations.
Other risk factors include unhealthy lifestyle, especially physical inactivity, being overweight, as well as smoking and drinking excessively. People with diabetes have nearly 40% higher risk of colon cancer than those who don’t have it. Also, women who have beat ovarian, uterine or breast cancer are more exposed to this type of cancer, as well as those who have already had colorectal cancer – there is a high possibility for the cancer to return, especially if it first appeared before the age of 60.
The early symptoms of colon cancer
Unfortunately, colon cancer does not normally give any symptoms in its first stages. In fact, it may take several years before they appear, which is why people over 50 are strongly recommended to have regular screening for colon cancer.
When symptoms start to appear, which normally happens in the later stages of the disease, they differ depending on the location of the tumor. These include frequent diarrhea, chronic constipation, blood in the stool, anemia, pencil-thin stool, severe stomach cramps. These symptoms are often accompanied by drastic weight loss, vomiting, loss of appetite or feeling of constant fatigue and exhaustion.
The most serious issue is the fact that patients usually ask medical attention when the disease has already advanced, which seriously lowers the chances of successful treatment. Colon cancer can occur in any part of the colon – it can appear in the rectum, especially in men, in the middle section of the colon, typically in women, and at the junction with the small intestine. Although people older than 50 are most susceptible to this type of cancer, it has rising incidence among younger population too.
How is colon cancer diagnosed
If there are indications of colon cancer in a patient, the doctor will want to take a complete medical history to check for symptoms and risk factors, including a patient’s family history. The physical exam will include a careful examination of the patient’s abdomen for masses or enlarged organs. A digital rectal exam (DRE) and an occult blood test are also carried out at this point.
The doctor will then order complete blood count to see if the patient has anemia (too few red blood cells), which is common in people with colorectal cancer due to prolonged bleeding from the tumor. Liver enzymes may also be required to check a patient’s liver function, because colorectal cancer can spread to the liver.
If symptoms or the results of the physical exam or blood tests indicate a colorectal cancer, the doctor may recommend further testing, such as colonoscopy, CAT scan, ultrasound or MRI.
Colon cancer prognosis and therapy
Colon cancer is completely curable if detected at an early stage when the tumor is usually removed by surgery. In such case, the prognosis for successful treatment is very good. However, if colon cancer cells spread to surrounding lymph nodes, surgery itself is not sufficient, but it’s normally combined with chemotherapy, immunotherapy or radiotherapy. Of course, there are certain side effects of each of these treatments.
Operation of the colon causes short-term pain, skin irritation around the operated area, as well as temporary constipation or diarrhea. Radiotherapy may cause dizziness, changes of skin exposed to treatment, loss of appetite, diarrhea, nausea, and bleeding from the rectum. On the other hand, immunotherapy causes tremors, weakness, nausea, and can raise body temperature. Chemotherapy has the most serious side effects including nausea, diarrhea and dizziness, mouth sores and hair loss, and rarely infection and bleeding.
As mentioned above, the successful treatment of colon cancer mostly depends on the stage of the disease – while it is completely curable in the early stages, in later stages, tumor growth can only be stopped to some extent.
As opposed to strong anticancer medications, which normally come with a wide range of side effects, natural remedies can also be used in every stage.
The importance of nutrition in colon cancer treatment
Diet based on foods full of cholesterol and fat increases the risk of colon cancer. Red meat, processed meats and spicy foods that contain large amounts of salt or additives also contribute to this condition. White flour, bread and sugar should be avoided as much as possible because these too can trigger colon cancer. The diet should include more grains, legumes, mushrooms, fish (it has been shown that fatty fish reduces polyps due to the omega-3 fats it contains) and chicken.
It is very important to consume food rich in fiber and antioxidants, which particularly refers to fresh fruit and vegetables. It’s highly recommended that cruciferous vegetables, such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, are consumed at least three times a week. Studies have shown that people with higher concentration of vitamin D in the body have up to 70% less chances of developing colon cancer (a glass of skimmed milk a day is enough to increase your vitamin D intake). The post-surgery diet must be strictly supervised by a qualified person – a gastroenterologist.
Apple is one of the most powerful allies in the fight against colon cancer. Chinese experts have found that the polysaccharides from the fruit, which then break down to oligosaccharides, are extremely beneficial for colon cancer treatment. It was discovered that these compounds act twice as effectively as colon cancer chemotherapy 36 hours after operation. Doctors and nutritionists recommend that colon cancer patients eat at least one apple a day to prevent the recurrence of cancer. Including apple cider vinegar into the diet is also highly recommended.
Colon cancer treatment plants and herbs
White or red onions are extremely effective in prevention of colon cancer thanks to their powerful anti-inflammatory effects. Organic sulfur substances with strong anticancer effects are released when cutting or chewing onions. An onion a day is enough to prevent this terrible disease. On the other hand, this vegetable is rich in quercetin and anthocyanin, powerful antioxidants commonly found in red berries, parsley and oregano, and used for prevention of cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Yellow or brown flaxseed is rich in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vegetable fiber, minerals and vitamins. Regular consumption of this seed promotes colon cleansing by eliminating harmful substances from the colon. This highly beneficial seed also prevents the formation of polyps and maintains good colon health. Owing to lignin, a powerful antioxidant, flaxseed prevents colon cancer as well as other cancers.
This tea is effective against many types of cancer, including colon cancer. Research conducted on lab rats revealed that the polyphenol E green tea contains prevents the spread of cancer cells. A group of rats who were given green tea every day had reduction of their tumors by 80%. The recommended dose is 4-6 cups a day.
The medicinal properties of turmeric are used in the prevention and treatment of many diseases, including colon cancer. Its active ingredient, curcumin, acts as an antioxidant which has strong anti-inflammatory effects, destroys cancer cells, and prevents tumor blood supply without damaging healthy cells.
Dandelion is used in the prevention and treatment of colon cancer. This herb slows down the activity of enzymes that block the action of compounds important not only for the prevention of cancer, but also for the prevention of their growth and development. Studies have shown that dandelion does not cause any side effects.
In fact, recent research shows that dandelion tea can destroy cancer cells, while leaving the healthy cells intact.
Other herbs used for the prevention and treatment of colon cancer include black cumin, yarrow, lemon balm, sage, mint, horsetail, St. John’s wort and marshmallow.