Colon Cancer

Colon cancer is one of the most frequent cancers in the UK. It starts in the tissues of your large intestine.

Colon Cancer at Ramsay Health Care UK

Here at Ramsay Health Care UK, we have a team of expert cancer specialists on hand to advise, diagnose, and treat colon cancer.

We understand the anxiety that colon cancer symptoms can bring and the importance of early testing to bring peace of mind and to help diagnose symptoms early for a better treatment outcome.

We offer convenient appointments to talk through the benefits and risks of all tests and treatments so that you are fully informed and understanding of all implications.

What is colon cancer?

Colon cancer is cancer that begins in the final part of your digestive tract, known as your large intestine or colon.

What causes colon cancer?

Colon cancer occurs when the cells that line your colon become abnormal and grow out of control. This cell growth can interfere with your colon or surrounding tissue and organs.

The exact cause of colon cancer is unknown. Risk factors can increase your chance of developing it.

Risk factors include:

  • Age – colon cancer is more common in older people.
  • Diet – such as eating a lot of red and processed meat and not eating enough fruit and fresh vegetables.
  • Physical activity – physically inactive people are more likely to develop colon cancer.
  • Body weight – being overweight can increase the risk of developing colon cancer, especially in men.
  • Smoking – colon cancer is more common in people who have smoked for many years
  • Inflammatory bowel conditions - such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, can increase the risk of colon cancer.
  • Type 2 diabetes – has a slightly higher risk of getting colon cancer.
  • Family history - if several close family members (parents, brothers and sisters) on the same side of your family have had colon cancer or if a close family member had bowel cancer before the age of 50 you may have a higher risk.

What are the signs and symptoms of colon cancer?

In the early stages of colon cancer, many people experience no symptoms. Screening is important if you are eligible for NHS screening or privately if you are worried about bowel cancer.

Symptoms can vary depending on the location, type and size of cancer, whether it has spread and if it has caused complications. You should see your GP if you experience any colon cancer symptoms.

Symptoms of colon cancer include:

  • blood in your poo or bleeding from your back passage
  • changes in your normal bowel habit – such as more frequent, constipation or looser stools
  • pain, such as cramps or a lump in your stomach
  • unexplained weight loss
  • extreme tiredness for no obvious reason

How is colon cancer diagnosed?

If you have colon cancer symptoms you should see your GP. If they think that your symptoms could be caused by cancer, they will refer you to a specialist doctor.

Colon cancer may also be diagnosed through a screening programme or going to the doctor about another problem such as bowel obstruction.

When you see a colon cancer specialist you will usually have:

  • A rectal exam – where your doctor places a gloved finger into your back passage to feel for any lumps or swelling
  • A blood test - to check for anaemia and whether your liver and kidneys are working normally.

The next step is an endoscopy procedure to diagnose colon cancer. If your doctor sees any abnormal or suspicious-looking areas, they will take a biopsy sample of it and send it to the laboratory for examination. The endoscopy procedure may be:

  • A colonoscopy - looks at the inside of your entire large intestine. It is performed as an outpatient procedure and takes about an hour.
  • A sigmoidoscopy – is less invasive as it only looks at the lower part of your colon.
  • A virtual colonoscopy – where a CT scanner takes a series of x-rays to build up a 3D picture of your bowel.

If a biopsy shows that you have cancer in your colon, you will have more tests. These include:

  • A CT scan - uses x-rays to build a 3D picture of the inside of your abdomen and chest. It checks if cancer has spread in your bowel and also to your liver or lungs.
  • An MRI scan - uses magnetism to build up a detailed picture of your abdomen, rectum and surrounding organs.
  • A PET-CT scan - is a combination of a CT scan and a PET scan that uses low-dose radiation to measure the activity of cells in different parts of your body.

Your doctor will decide the grade of your cancer by how the cancer cells look under the microscope. This will help them to plan the best treatment for you.

What are the treatments for colon cancer?

Treatment for colon cancer depends on the stage of your cancer, where it is in the colon, your general health and preferences.

Colon cancer treatment options:

  • Surgery - is the most common treatment. It removes cancer or areas affected by cancer. It may also be used to help control your symptoms. The type of surgery you have will depend on where your cancer is, what size it is and whether it has spread to other parts of the body.
  • Local resection - for very small, early-stage cancer, your surgeon may remove it from the lining of your colon using a flexible tube with a light at the end (a colonoscope or sigmoidoscope). They also remove some of the tissue surrounding the cancer to make sure no cancer cells are left behind.
  • Colectomy – removes part or your colon that contains cancer and the nearby lymph nodes.
  • Surgery for blocked bowel - unblocks your bowel using a hollow, expandable tube called a stent to hold your bowel open and allow bowel movements to pass through.
  • Chemotherapy - uses anti-cancer drugs to destroy cancer cells. It may be used after surgery or as your main treatment if the cancer has spread. Chemo is given as a course of treatment, made up of several treatment cycles and usually lasts three to six months.
  • Targeted therapy drugs – can target something in or around a cancer cell that is helping it grow and survive. Targeted therapies are sometimes used to treat colon cancers that have spread to other parts of the body.

Can colon cancer be cured?

Colon cancer can be cured, especially if diagnosed early.

Nearly everyone survives colon cancer if it is diagnosed at the earliest stage.

It is therefore advisable that if you are eligible, you should take part in the NHS screening programme every two years and if you have any other concerns about bowel cancer you should see your doctor or arrange a private screening test. Colon cancer diagnostic and screening tests are non-invasive and if bowel cancer is detected early, it can be treated.

Unfortunately, survival rates drop significantly as colon cancer develops. They are, however, improving over recent years which may be due to earlier diagnosis and better treatment.

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