The large intestine consists of the colon and rectum, which make up the
final portion of the digestive tract. Cancer of the colon is one of the
most common types of cancer, and accounts for 10 percent of cancer deaths.
Fortunately, the death rate from colorectal cancer has been dropping, in large part due to early detection methods. When colorectal cancer is found and treated early, it is 90 percent curable. Colon cancer occurs most commonly in people older than 40. Symptoms include rectal bleeding, cramping pain in the abdomen,
and a change in bowel habits. Some colon cancers may cause obstruction
of the intestines, discomfort, weight loss, and anemia. Because this
cancer develops over a period of time, it can be present long before
symptoms appear. To detect potential problems, the American Cancer Society recommends a stool blood test
every year and a flexible sigmoidoscopy (sig-moid-OSS-kuh-pee) every five years starting at age 50. For those with a family history of the disease screening should begin earlier and take place more frequently.
In cases where the entire colon must be examined, doctors may perform
a procedure called a colonoscopy (coe-lun-OSS-kuh-pee), in which a
long, flexible instrument is advanced far into the large intestine.
Biopsies of suspicious tissue may be taken during this exam. If cancer is
found, treatment may include some combination of surgery, radiation,
or chemotherapy. Remember, early detection offers the best chance for
cure, so if you experience symptoms of colon or rectal cancer, contact
a healthcare provider immediately.