What is Colon Cancer?
Colon cancer is a type of cancer that affects the colon which is the longest part of the large intestine and the lower part of the digestive system. The colon is the part of the body where extraction of water and salt from solid wastes occur before waste moves into the rectum and exits the body through the anus. In colon cancer, cell growth is out of control in the large intestine, thus further forming small, noncancerous (benign) tumors called adenomatous polyps that form on the inner walls of the large intestine. These growths further grow into malignant colon cancers over time if they are not removed during colonoscopy. These malignant cells can spread to other parts of the body and can cause many complications. Malignancies that have spread to other parts of the body are difficult to treat.
Not all people are prone to have colon cancer. There are some people who have risk factors for colon cancer such as those who have precancerous polyps that exist in the large intestine. These polyps are adenomas, hyperplastic polyps or inflammatory polyps. Adenomas are usually removed when found during colonoscopy. Hyperplastic polyps rarely become colon cancer while inflammatory polyps are usually results of inflammation of the colon.
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Another risk factor that may lead to colon cancer is the presence of cancerous genes. Cancer cells can grow and develop when there are damages or mutations to DNA. Colon cancer can be inherited. Genetic syndromes that are associated with colon cancer include familial adenomatous polyposis, attenuated adenomatous polyposis, and hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer.
Another predisposing factor for colonic cancer is age. People who are often diagnosed of colon cancer are those you are aged 50 and above. Other risk factors include sedentary lifestyles, obesity, tobacco smoking, diets that are low in fiber and high in fat or calories and red meat, and heavy alcohol consumption. Other diseases can also predispose to colon cancer such as diabetes, acromegaly (a growth hormone disorder), radiation treatment for other cancers, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease.
Colonic cancer can bring about various signs and symptoms such as diarrhea or constipation, changes in stool consistency, narrow stools, rectal bleeding or blood in the stool, pain, cramps or gas in the abdomen, pain during bowel movements, continual urges to defecate, weakness or fatigue, unexplained weight loss, irritable bowel syndrome and iron deficiency (anemia).
Recently researchers from University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center have found out that patients with advanced colorectal cancer responded well to a combination therapy of the drugs vermurafenib, cetuximab and irinotecan. The findings were presented in the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s 2014 Annual Meeting in Chicago. The researchers think that there is a specific mutation in the BRAF gene, which is present in 5 to 10 percent of colorectal cancer patients. In their study, they have identified this as a therapeutic target, since a BRAF mutation in colorectal cancer are recognized for having aggressive disease that doesn’t typically respond to standard chemotherapy. The researchers were able to document partial responses or stable disease in patients with colorectal cancer who underwent combination therapy compared to those patients who were treated with single agent vemurafenib. They hope that this combination could become standard care for colorectal cancer patients.
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