Colon cancer is the second leading
cause of cancer death in the United States. In the U.S.,
cancers of the colon and rectum combined (colorectal) are the third
most common site of new cases. It is estimated that 148,300 will be
diagnosed this year and that approximately 56,600 Americans will die of the disease this year.
It is estimated that eighty
percent of colon cancers occur in people with average risk of
the disease, and about 20 percent occur in those at high risk,
including those with a personal history of ulcerative colitis
or a family history of colon cancer in a mother, father,
sister or brother who receives a diagnosis before age 50.
Anyone can get colorectal cancer, but over 90% of the cases occur
after age 50. The
median age at which colorectal cancer occurs is 62 years, but the
risk of developing colon cancer starts rising at age 40. In
addition, many younger people have colon cancer risk factors.
cancers occur in the final six inches of the digestive tract. Tumors
that arise in the bowel above the rectum are colon cancers.
According to the American Cancer
Society, approximately 90% of all colorectal cancer cases and deaths
are thought to be preventable. Risk
factors for colorectal cancer include a personal or family history
of colorectal cancer or polyps, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Other risk factors include a sedentary life-style (not enough
exercise) high fat/low fiber diet and inadequate ingestion of fruits
and vegetables. (Note: Garlic and its cousins (onions, chives,
scallions and leeks) appear to help prevent cancers of the digestive
system, including the colon and rectum.)
In addition, according to a study
reported by Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention,
2002;11:227-234, people with a family history of colon cancer may be
able to reduce their risk of developing the disease with a few
simple dietary changes. The study was based on the Nurses' Health
Study, an ongoing project that has tracked the health of more than
100,000 female registered nurses in the United States for more than
25 years. It appears a diet high in folic acid, high in methionine
(an essential amino acid), and low in alcohol intake, when followed
for at least five years, significantly reduced colon cancer risk in
those with a family history of the disease.
As with all cancer, early detection is important. This cancer may
exhibit no signs in its early stages. Gradually, as it progresses,
any of the following may be noted: a change in
bowel habits, diarrhea, constipation or a sense that the bowel is
not empty, blood (either bright red, or dark) in the stool,
abdominal discomfort, pelvic pain, weight loss for no apparent reason, constant
tiredness and fatigue, anemia due to blood loss, and vomiting.
There are a few tests normally used
to diagnose colon cancer. These include:
The fecal blood test. Note: This test
can have some false positives, as there are some other reasons for
blood in the stool, such as if a person has hemorrhoids.
A sigmoidoscopy presents a visual
picture of the colon so a doctor can clearly see the polyps
that might be cancerous, but the procedure only looks at the
lower part of the colon, and there is some discomfort with the
A colonoscopy, which is what is often recommended as a
follow-up to other procedures if there is evidence of possible
cancer, offers the most thorough look at the whole colon and
only needs to be done every 10 years if no cancer is found.
However, it is more expensive than the other procedures and
requires preparation a day ahead of time.
When any suspicious signs or symptoms
are encountered, further testing might be done - often a double
contrast barium enema (DCBE). If cancer is found, a biopsy is
Additional tests that are available
Tests for Colon/Colorectal Cancer:
- Carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) is
a cancer marker. Go to our cancer
tests page for more information.
- DR-70 is a simple
blood test - Go to our cancer
tests page for more information.
- Hemoccult Test for
colorectal cancer tests for blood in the stool. A positive
finding warrants having further tests, like a colonoscopy or
sigmoidoscopy to detect polyps and tumors. This test
can be performed by almost any doctor's office. Note: A
hemoccult test can yield a false positive if the person has
recently consumed fresh fruits and vegetables, red meat, iron
tablets or vitamin C tablets. Aspirin and other nonsteroidal
anti-inflammatory drugs may also cause false positives. Be sure
to discuss this with your doctor.
- PreGen-26 - a new DNA Test
for Colorectal Cancer is not a predictive test but a test to
detect the presence of actual disease in people with hereditary
non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC). People with HNPCC have
an 80% lifetime risk of developing the disease. The test, a
stool-sample test was developed by Exact Sciences Corp. and is
being commercialized by Laboratory Corporation of America (LabCorp,
Burlington, NC, USA). In active colorectal cancer, DNA from
tumors is shed into the colon and carried out of the body in
stool. Patients collect stool samples and send them to LabCorp,
who will send the test results to the patient's doctor for use
in determining future monitoring and treatment.
is a blood test which indicates the presence of the cancer. Go
to our cancer
tests page for more information.
Once cancer of the colon is diagnosed, more tests are done to find
out if cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body (staging)
- a surgical procedure is usually performed. Knowing the stage of
the disease will assist the doctor in effectively planning further
treatment. Often X-rays, CT scans, bone scans, MRIs, and PET scans
may be used to determine how advanced the cancer is and if it has
The following stages are used for cancer of the colon:
Stage 0 or carcinoma in situ is very early cancer - found
only in the innermost lining of the colon.
Stage I - The cancer has spread beyond the innermost lining
of the colon to the second and third layers and involves the inside
wall of the colon, but has not spread to the outer wall of the colon
or outside the colon. Sometimes called Dukes A colon cancer.
Stage II: Cancer has spread outside the colon to nearby
tissue, but it has not gone into the lymph nodes. Sometimes
called Dukes B colon cancer.
Stage III: Cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, but it
has not spread to other parts of the body. Sometimes called Dukes C
Stage IV: Cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such
as the liver, bones, or lungs.
Sometimes called Dukes D colon cancer.
Recurrent - The cancer has come back (recurred) after it has
been treated. It may come back in the colon or in another part of
the body. Recurrent cancer of the colon is often found in the liver
Many believe many cases begin
as polyps, small, precancerous growths on the inner wall of the
colon or rectum. If not removed, some polyps can develop into
cancer, but they are easily found with screening tests and are often
removed during the same procedure.
Colon cancer, if not treated, tends
to become advanced and may develop into any of the following
complications: Spinal cord compression, brain metastasis, bone
metastasis, high calcium levels, pain, high uric acid, pleural
effusion, and fluid in the abdomen.
The most common conventional
treatment for colorectal cancer is surgery. Usually this involves
the removal of the primary tumor, part of the healthy colon or
rectum, and nearby lymph nodes. Sometimes a temporary or permanent
colostomy is required. Chemotherapy may be used, especially in later
stages of colorectal cancer. Radiation is often used, even in early
stages of rectal cancer. Some of the alternative approaches are
We don't have the most recent stats, but the American Cancer Society
shows the one-year survival rate for colorectal cancer at about 81%.
The five-year survival rate is 61%. The 10 year survival rate
overall is 50%.
Some of the more alternative
approaches to treating colon and colorectal cancer include: Low dose naltroxene - LDN is sometimes used
for treating rectal cancer. Laetrile (Vitamin
B17) is often used.
radiofrequency albation is used in cases where colon cancer has
spread to the liver. Radio
frequency ablation is a technique that employs high-energy radio
frequency sound waves to destroy inoperable tumors.
Diet programs seem to help, such as Gerson or Hallelujah diet.
might be used.
supplements and herbal products may be used to shrink the tumors.
These include Ellagic acid, shark cartilage or shark liver oil, Haelan,
BioBac, and more. Hi dose Vitamin C is often used.
For a list of doctors that are comfortable treating colon cancer
using alternative or integrated approaches, go to our directory
of clinics page.
Aggressive Colon Cancer Screening Urged -
Reported July 15, 2002 - HealthScoutNews -- More evidence that early
screening reduces death from colon cancer has prompted a
government group to boost its recommendation that everyone
over 50 be screened for the disease. According to
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), studies show
that a fecal occult blood
test, a colonoscop, or a sigmoidoscopy are effective is reducing mortality from colon
cancer. They feel people at a higher risk for the disease, like those with a
family history, should be tested at younger ages, but that 90 percent of colon cancers appear in people over
age 50, they feel that is a good age to start undergoing
screenings. The American Cancer Society also feels that beginning
at age 50, both men and women should have a fecal occult test
every year or a sigmoidoscopy every five years, or both, or a
barium enema every five to 10 years, or a colonoscopy every 10
Laparoscopic Surgery for Colon Cancer -
as reported on Ivanhoe Newswire's website - Jun. 28, 2002. A new study
reported in The Lancet,
2002;359:2224-2229 claims colon cancer patients have fewer
complications, shorter hospital stays, and longer survival rates when they
receive laparoscopic surgery (LAC), a less invasive surger, to remove their
Although colon cancer is the second
leading cause of cancer death in Western countries, prognosis for people
with the disease has been improving in recent years. Better diagnostic
tests can uncover the cancer in its early stages, making treatment more
effective, and new medical therapies have improved survival rates after
surgery. LAC, which has been used for other types of
gastrointestinal surgery, causes fewer complications because it is less
invasive, but it has not been used on a regular basis for colon cancer due to
the difficulty of performing the procedure. Even more important, LAC patients, particularly those with more
advanced tumors, had a 60 percent reduced risk of suffering a relapse of
their tumor than those in the conventional group.
Vitamin D May Be Crucial to
Protect Against Colon Cancer
New studies by researchers at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute
indicate that vitamin D protects against colon cancer by helping to
detoxify cancer-triggering chemicals that are released during the
digestion of high-fat foods. One should not overdue the amount of
vitamin D they take as it can produce hypercalcemia, but if one gets
adequate exposure to the sun, the body can manufacture Vitamin D. Go
Hughes' website for more information.
Research reported in the
journal Nutrition and Cancer in May 2002 shows black raspberries may help
thwart colon cancer. They are rich in antioxidants, thought to have
cancer preventing properties - even more than
blueberries and strawberries.