Although cancer of the colon usually shows no signs of being present, there are certain symptoms that do tend to show-up in the minority of people. These symptoms may include: rectal bleeding, abdominal pains, diarrhea, constipation, or a notable weight loss.
Who is at risk of getting cancer of the colon?
Colon cancer is usually associated with the over 50s (male or female), although it is sometimes seen in younger people. A family history of colon cancer may also have a bearing on whether someone is more susceptible to getting it or not, although statistics tend to show that most sufferers of the disease have no previous family history. Both men and women have an equal chance of getting colon cancer.
How is cancer of the colon diagnosed?
Often developed from small non-cancerous growths found in the colon called polyps, colon cancer can actually be prevented by having these polyps removed. The removal of these polyps is usually done during undergoing a colonoscopy test, whereby a flexible tube with a camera attached to the end (colonoscope) is inserted into the large intestine of the patient.
As the scope is inserted, it inflates the large intestine by pumping carbon dioxide gas into it to allow the doctor to get a better view of what is going on inside. A video image of the inside of the colon, rectum, and intestine is then transmitted back to a computer screen where the doctor can examine it.
The colonoscopy combines the technology of computers and x-ray to create 3-dimensional views of the full length of the colon, rectum, and large intestine. However, according to the U.S. National Cancer Institute, colonoscopy can be done using: Computed Tomography (CT scans), Computed Assisted Tomography (CAT scans), or with Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MIR), creating a virtual colonoscopy.
Although colonoscopy may have certain benefits to offer over other tests of the colon, it does have certain drawbacks, such as being a very time consuming-procedure where the preparation is unpleasant for the patient, and where the need for sedation is necessary. The after effects can also be quite unpleasant too, with both cramping and bloating being experienced during the first two hours after the test is completed.
A full recovery can be expected within 24 hours. It should also be noted that with colonoscopy, complications can include the possibility of bleeding or puncture of the large intestine, although this is usually uncommonly heard of. Due to these unpleasant drawbacks, this is probably the reason why only half of the over 50s who should be given a colonoscopy test, decide not to take one.
Virtual Colonoscopy is now an alternative to colonoscopy where the benefits are that the procedure is less uncomfortable for the patient, and there is no need of sedation, although virtual colonoscopy also has its drawbacks (no tissue samples can be taken, the polyps cannot be removed during the test). Either way, colonoscopy or virtual colonoscopy can be used to discover polyps, which in turn will lead to their removal.