Last modified: October 26, 2015
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Colon cancer is also known as colorectal cancer (Winawer, Schottenfeld and Flehinger; Zieve). Although it is rare in Africa and Asia (Lee and Marks), it is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in the United States (Zieve). The colon is the last part of the large intestine, consisting of the ascending colon, the transverse colon, the descending colon, the sigmoid colon and the rectum (Colon Cancer). It helps to absorb nutrients, minerals and water from the food and to get rid of the waste materials (Dixon).
Cancer refers to a group of diseases that are caused when cells become abnormal because they divide without any control or order (Lee and Marks), and the older cells do not die but keep dividing to form a mass of tissue called a growth or tumor. Colon cancer arises mostly as small, noncancerous lumps of cells called adenomatous polyps in the glands in the lining of the colon and rectum (Zieve) and some of these develop into cancers eventually (MayoClinic). The cells of these malignant tumors metastasize by breaking away from the original site and travelling to other organs through the bloodstream or the lymphatic system. About 95% of colon cancers are of the carcinoma type (Zieve) called adenocarcinomas (Colon Cancer).
Colon cancers can be caused by risk factors such as old age, existence of colorectal polyps, hereditary and genetic tendencies, previous cancers, ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, diet, as well as cigarette smoking and drinking alcohol. (Zieve).
Colorectal cancer occurs in four stages: stage I: where the tumor is confined to the inner wall of the colon or rectum; stage II: where the tumor has grown extensively into the colon or rectum and invaded the nearby tissues but not spread to the lymph nodes; stage III: where the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes but not to other organs; and stage IV: where the cancer has spread to other organs like the lungs or liver. It can also recur after the treatment for the original cancer.
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