Colon cancer is a disease in where cancer cells form in the tissues of your colon. The aim of bowel surgery is to remove your colorectal cancer. A bowel surgery, or partial colectomy, involves removing tumors in your colon or rectum along with some of your normal tissue around it. This normal tissue is known as the cancer margin and is necessary to remove because it may also be cancerous. Your lymph nodes may also be removed and tested for cancer. The name for this type of operation is resection, where tissues or part of an organ is removed. The surgeon’s job is to remove just the right amount so that there is still good blood supply for the bowels, and effectively sew the healthy parts of the colon or rectum back together.
Risks & Factors for Colon Cancer
- 50 years of age or older
- Family history of colon or rectal cancer
- Hereditary conditions (familial adenomatous polyposis, hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer)
- Inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
- Personal history of cancer of the colon, rectum, ovary, endometrium, or breast.
- Polyps present in your colon in the past
Symptoms of Colon Cancer
- Blood in the stool
- Change in bowel habits
- Frequent gas pains, bloating, fullness, or cramps
- Narrower stools than usual
- Weight loss for no reason
Diagnosing Colon Cancer
Barium enema: a series of x-rays taken of your lower gastrointestinal tract
Biopsy: removing your cells or tissues that may be affected by cancer and examining them under a microscope
Colonoscopy: a procedure that looks inside your rectum and colon for polyps, abnormalities, and cancer
Digital rectal exam: an exam of your rectum performed by a doctor or nurse, who inserts a lubricated, gloved finger into your rectum to feel for anything abnormal
Fecal occult blood test: small samples of your stool and the possible blood in it being checked under a microscope.
History: a nurse or doctor will take your health habits, past illnesses, and treatments.
Physical exam: a nurse or doctor will check your body for general signs of health and disease, lumps, or anything else that may be unusual.
Sigmoidoscopy: a nurse or doctor looks inside the rectum and lower colon for polyps using a sigmoidoscope (a thin, tubelike instrument with a light and a lens for viewing) and removing samples to be checked under a microscope for signs of cancer.
Virtual colonoscopy: a series of x-rays of the colon combined by a computer to create more detailed images. This is known as computed tomography and it makes it easier for health professionals to figure out more information about the inside surface of your colon.
Recovery & Treatment
CEA (Carcinoembryonic Antigen) Levels: if the CEA levels in your blood have increased, it may be an indicator of cancer being present
General Health: pain or conditions occurring in other parts of your body.
Recurring Cancer: whether your cancer will or has returned in another part of your body after previous treatments
Stage of Cancer: whether your cancer is present in the inner lining of your colon only, involves your whole colon, or has spread to other places in your body.
How does cancer spread in my body?
Blood: Cancer invades the veins and capillaries and travels through your blood to other places in your body.
Lymph System: cancer invades and travels through your lymph vessels to other places in your body.
Tissue: cancer invades the normal tissue in your body that surrounds the tumors.
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So I have diagnosed colon cancer. How will my doctor be able to find out if my cancer cells have spread within my rectum or to other parts of my body? The following tests and procedures are used by your doctor to stage your cancer and find out if metastasis has occurred.
- CEA (Carcinoembryonic Antigen) Assay: a test that measures CEA levels in your blood.
- Chest X-Ray: an x-ray of the organs and bones inside your chest.
- Complete Blood Count (CBC): Your blood is drawn and checked for the number of red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets. The hemoglobin levels in your red blood cells.
- CT Scan/CAT Scan: a computer assembles a series of x-rays of areas inside your body taken from different angles. Sometimes a dye is injected into your vein or swallowed to help the organs and tissues show up more clearly.
- Lymph Node Biopsy: a doctor removes all or part of your lymph node and a pathologist examines it for cancer cells using a microscope.
- MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging): a way to make a series of detailed pictures of your colon using a magnet, radio waves, and a computer. A substance called gadolinium is injected into a vein. If cancer cells are present the gadolinium will collect around them and make them show up brighter in the picture.
- Surgery: A surgeon will remove your tumor and see how far it has spread through your colon.
Depending on the stage of cancer, the location of your tumor, and whether your cancer has recurred, a surgeon may be needed to remove the cancerous materials from your bowels. Bowel surgery, also known as colorectal surgery, is the most common treatment for all stages of colon cancer. The types of surgery you may have to undergo are:
- Cryosurgery: a treatment that uses a freezing instrument to destroy abnormal tissue.
Local excision: used to remove a very early stage cancer without having to cut through your abdominal wall. A tube will be inserted through your rectum into your colon and cancer will be cut out. If your cancer is in a polyp that is cut out, this procedure is called a polypectomy.
- Resection: used for larger cancers, a doctor will remove cancer and a small amount of healthy tissue around it, and then sew the healthy parts of your colon back together. Usually, they will also remove your lymph nodes near your colon and have them tested for cancer.
- Resection and Colostomy: if the doctor isn’t able to sew the two ends of your colon back together an opening is made on the outside of your body for waste to pass through. You will temporarily need a colostomy bag (sometimes your lower colon just need a chance to heal). However if a large enough amount of the colon is removed, the colostomy may be permanent.
- Radiofrequency Ablation: a special probe with tiny electrodes that kill cancer cells is inserted either directly through your skin or through an incision in your abdomen.
- Microwave Ablation: heat generated by microwave energy is harnessed and used to destroy tumors in your liver.
Some additional therapies you may have to undergo after surgery to increase your chances of a cure are:
- Chemoembolization: your hepatic artery (the main artery that supplies your liver with blood) is blocked (either temporarily or permanently) and anticancer drugs are then injected between the blockage and your liver. Your liver’s arteries deliver the drugs throughout your liver.
- Chemotherapy: taking drugs that either kills cancer cells or stop them from dividing. These drugs can be delivered using systemic chemotherapy (through pills or injections) or regional chemotherapy (injections directly into the spine, a body cavity, an organ, or another specific area).
- Clinical Trials: taking part in a clinical trial can help you find an effective new treatment, and help improve the way cancer will be treated in the future.
- Follow-up Tests: sometimes you need to take diagnostic tests again to find out if you have recurring cancer and to see how your treatment is working for you.
- Radiation: high energy x-rays are used to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside your body to send radiation toward cancer; internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed inside of needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly in or near cancer.
- Targeted Therapy: using antibodies made in a laboratory to identify substances on cancer cells that may be helping cancer cells grow. The antibodies attach to these substances and kills cancer cells, blocks them from growing, or keeps them from spreading.
Talk with your doctor about which treatment is right for your cancer. If you do end up requiring bowel (colorectal) surgery, there are many routes you can take to a full recovery.