Colon cancer is an age-related and hereditary form of cancer that often begins with the mutation of healthy cells. This mutation develops adenomatous polyps or mushroom-like growths within the walls of the large intestine. Risks are higher on people aged 50 years and above as well as those who have the genetic tendency (i.e. people with relatives who had been previously diagnosed with colon cancer).
Unhealthy lifestyle-related activities also increase the risks, such as regular and significant amounts of alcohol intake, dietary programs consisting of high fat and low fiber foods, smoking, obesity, and lack of physical activity.
Its progression begins at Stage 0 wherein the tumor or polyps are contained within the innermost lining of the colon. Metastasis occurs during the Stage IIB or the Dukes B stage characterized by the spread of the cancer cells to nearby tissues. The spread of the cancer cells to other organs of the body (i.e. lungs and/or liver) happens in Stage 4 or Dukes D stage. The cause of metastasis remains a mystery to date.
Metastasis happens when cancer cells travel either through the blood stream or the lymphatic system to another part of the body. The liver is the common site for distant colon metastasis, which is observed in approximately 60% of colon cancer patients.
There are symptoms associated with metastatic colorectal cancer. These symptoms include: a) loss of appetite, b) fatigue, c) weight loss, d) urinary tract problems (pain or increased frequency of urination), d) coughing, shortness of breath, or spitting of blood if cancer metastasized in the lungs, e) pain in the upper right side of the abdomen and bloating for liver metastasis, f.) in rare cases, onset of jaundice if the outflow of bile is blocked, and g) a probable liver enlargement.
The cause of metastasis remains a mystery to date. However, it has been found out that the majority of patients that have liver metastasis also have prior hepatic diseases.
It is estimated that a 5-year survival rate among Dukes A patients is 93% while the 10-year survival rate is still high at about 92%. Further still, the 5-year survival rate among Dukes C patients significantly decrease to 59% and only about 7% among Dukes D patients. As such, success of treatment is higher in the earlier stages.
It is crucial that the disease is detected and understood as early as possible. Medical assistance should be secured if the patient is at risk and experiences any combination of the following symptoms:
- Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ sudden irregularity in the bowel movements;
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ presence of blood (bright red or black) in the stool;
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ gastric discomfort such as gas pain or bloating;
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ a feeling of inability to completely empty bowel;
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ narrower stools than usual;
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ sudden weight loss;
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ and vomiting.
There are a variety of test procedures that characterize the stage and progression of the cancer such as any one or a combination of any of the following tests:
1. Computerized tomography scan, in which cross-sectional x-rays of the various tissues of the colon and other body parts are taken;
2. Lymph node biopsy, in which sample cells are carefully viewed using a high-powered microscope;
3. Complete blood count of the red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets;
4. Amount of carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) assay in the bloodstream;
5. Magnetic resonance imaging, which produces detailed pictures of the affected areas;
6. Chest x-ray; and
7. During the surgery/removal of the primary tumor, spread to other parts of the body can also be inspected.
The type of treatment being administered usually varies with the stage and the overall wellness of the patient. Traditionally, there are three (3) standard treatments that include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.
Among these, surgery is still the most popular treatment. The type of surgery being administered varies according to the stage of the disease. The less invasive and oftentimes utilized procedure for Stages 0 and 1 patients is the local incision or a procedure called laparoscopy. More invasive procedures or open surgeries such as resection and/or colostomy are administered for patients in the more advanced stages.
Open surgery removes the affected portions of the colon and nearby healthy cells. Metastatic colon cancer is usually augmented with chemotherapy or radiation therapy to kill cancer cells that have spread into the other parts of the body.
There are also new forms of treatments that include radiofrequency ablation, cryosurgery, and biologic therapy. The latter uses the patients immune system to fight cancer and found to reduce disease-related mortalities among Dukes C and D patients.
Aside from the drugs and procedures being administered to extend the lives of those afflicted by the disease, it is important that the patients experience less pain and be able to live normal lives.
There are alternative and complimentary treatments, which can help not only in the success of conventional treatments but also increase the quality of life of the cancer patients. For instance, some studies show that exercise dramatically increases survival rate by up to 40-50% among patients in Dukes A to C stages.
Acupuncture helps reduce side effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy such as diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. Hypnosis and other mind-body stimulations reduce stress and pain felt by the patients and increase their coping mechanisms.
Homeopathic treatments are also gaining grounds. For one, cancer cells are found to reproduce anaerobically through glycolysis. Advocates of this treatment ward of carbohydrates and other sugars from the patients diet to encourage degeneration of cancer cells.
Others undergo a cleansing diet that involves only organic fresh fruits and vegetables. Dietary supplements such as Co-Q19, psyllium fiber, and barley grass are among the most popular, which claim to strengthen the immune system, regenerate healthy cells, and promote longevity.
It should be noted though, that there are no clinical trials or tests conducted in controlled environments have proven the effectiveness of alternative treatments. Therefore, patients and/or their relatives should be careful in choosing the type of treatments that will be administered as these may instead aggravate the patients conditions.