Colon cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is a type of cancer that affects the colon or rectum. It is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in women worldwide, with an estimated 450,000 cases diagnosed annually. Colon cancer develops slowly and may not show symptoms in the early stages, making it essential for women to be aware of the warning signs and risk factors associated with this disease. In this article, we will discuss the signs of colon cancer in women that should not be ignored. Early detection and treatment are critical for a successful outcome in colon cancer cases, making it crucial for women to be vigilant and proactive about their health.
What is Colon Cancer?
Colon cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is a type of cancer that develops in the colon or rectum. It usually begins as a growth called a polyp, which can turn into cancer over time if left untreated.
How long does it take for colon cancer to develop?
In general, colon cancer typically develops slowly over several years, often starting as a noncancerous growth called a polyp. It can take anywhere from 5 to 10 years or more for a polyp to develop into a cancerous tumour. However, in some cases, colon cancer can develop more rapidly and aggressively, particularly in younger individuals or those with a genetic predisposition to the disease.
What is the survival rate for colon cancer?
According to the American Cancer Society, the overall 5-year survival rate for colon cancer is around 64%. However, this rate can vary widely depending on the stage of the cancer. For individuals diagnosed with localized colon cancer (cancer that has not spread beyond the colon or rectum), the 5-year survival rate is about 91%. For those with regional stage cancer (cancer that has spread to nearby lymph nodes), the 5-year survival rate is approximately 72%. Unfortunately, the survival rate drops significantly for those with distant metastatic colon cancer (cancer that has spread to other parts of the body), with a 5-year survival rate of only around 14%.
What are the signs of colon cancer in women?
The signs of colon cancer in women are similar to those in men and may include:
- Changes in bowel habits, such as persistent constipation, diarrhoea, or narrow stools
- Blood in the stool or rectal bleeding
- Abdominal pain or cramping that does not go away
- Unexplained weight loss or fatigue
- Feeling like the bowel does not completely empty after a bowel movement
- Persistent gas or bloating
- A feeling of fullness in the abdomen, even after a small meal
In addition to these general symptoms, women may also experience some specific signs of colon cancer, such as:
Iron-deficiency anaemia: This can occur due to chronic bleeding from a colon tumour, leading to a decrease in red blood cells and low iron levels.
Changes in menstrual cycle: Women with colon cancer may experience irregular menstrual periods or heavy bleeding.
Pelvic pain: In some cases, colon cancer can spread to nearby organs, such as the ovaries, causing pelvic pain or discomfort.
What are the risk factors for colon cancer in women?
Several factors can increase a woman’s risk of developing colon cancer. Some of the most common risk factors for colon cancer in women include:
The risk of colon cancer increases with age, with the majority of cases occurring in people over the age of 50.
- Personal or family history
Women with a personal or family history of colon cancer or polyps are at a higher risk of developing the disease themselves.
- Inherited genetic mutations
Certain inherited genetic mutations, such as Lynch syndrome and familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), can increase the risk of colon cancer in women.
A diet high in red and processed meats, low in fibre, and high in fat and calories can increase the risk of colon cancer in women.
Being overweight or obese can increase the risk of colon cancer in women.
- Smoking and alcohol consumption
Smoking and heavy alcohol consumption can increase the risk of colon cancer in women.
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
Women with a history of IBD, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, are at an increased risk of developing colon cancer.
How is colon cancer diagnosed?
Colon cancer is typically diagnosed through a combination of medical history, physical examination, and diagnostic tests. Here are some common methods used to diagnose colon cancer:
Medical history and physical examination
A healthcare professional will take a detailed medical history and perform a physical examination, which may include a digital rectal exam to check for abnormalities in the rectum or lower colon.
Blood tests can help evaluate a person’s overall health and detect abnormalities, such as low red blood cell counts (anaemia) that may be caused by chronic bleeding from a colon tumour.
This is a procedure in which a flexible, lighted tube with a camera is inserted into the rectum and colon to view the inside of the colon. During the procedure, the doctor can biopsy (remove small samples of tissue) or remove any polyps that are found for further testing.
Imaging tests such as CT scans, MRI scans, and PET scans can help evaluate the size and location of tumours in the colon and detect whether cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
Stool tests, such as faecal occult blood tests (FOBT) or faecal immunochemical tests (FIT), can detect the presence of blood in the stool, which can be a sign of colon cancer.
What is the Treatment for Colon cancer?
The treatment of colon cancer is determined by various factors, such as the stage of cancer, the tumour’s location, and the patient’s overall health condition. Generally, treatment options for colon cancer include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy.
Q1: What age should I start getting screened for colon cancer?
Ans: Screening for colon cancer should begin at age 50 for most individuals, earlier if you have certain risk factors.
Q2: What are the risk factors for colon cancer?
Ans: Risk factors for colon cancer include age, family history, inflammatory bowel disease, a diet high in red and processed meats, and a sedentary lifestyle.
Q3: Can colon cancer be prevented?
Ans: Colon cancer can often be prevented through regular screenings, a healthy diet, and lifestyle modifications such as exercise and avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.
Q4: Is colon cancer curable?
Ans: Yes, colon cancer is treatable, and in many cases, curable, especially when caught early. Treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy.
Q5: What are the symptoms of colon cancer?
Ans: Symptoms of colon cancer include changes in bowel habits, abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, weakness and fatigue, unintended weight loss, and a feeling that the bowel does not empty completely.