The main symptoms of colon cancer are frequent diarrhea, blood in the stools, or pain in the belly. Sometimes these symptoms can be hard to identify because they are also signs that can occur due to common problems such as intestinal infections or hemorrhoids.
In addition, the signs vary depending on the location of the tumor and the severity of the disease, and so it is recommended you seek medical advice when symptoms persist for more than 1 month.
Symptoms of coloretal cancer
The cancer that most affects the bowel is colorectal, which strikes the last part of the large intestine. If you want to know your chances of having this disease, point out your symptoms from the following, because they are the main symptoms of this type of cancer:
Symptoms of small bowel cancer
However, bowel cancer can also occur in the first part of the intestine, known as the small intestine, causing less specific symptoms such as abdominal pain, fatigue, anemia and weight loss, and it is not easy to identify without complementary tests such as computed tomography, ordered by the gastroenterologist.
When to go to the doctor
If you have the symptoms mentioned above for more than 1 month, it is important you seek the doctor for tests that identify the cause of the problem, especially in people over the age of 50.
In addition, the presence of some problems increase the risk of developing intestinal cancer, such as obesity, uncontrolled diabetes, low fiber diet, presence of chronic inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn's disease, or when there is a family history of polyps or cancer.
Tests that can confirm the presence of cancer
If cancer is suspected, the tests most used to confirm the diagnosis are:
- Stool examination: helps to identify the presence of hidden blood or bacteria in the stools that can be responsible for altering intestinal transit;
- Colonoscopy: used to evaluate the walls of the intestine when there are symptoms or presence of hidden blood in the stools;
- Computed tomography: is used when it is not possible to perform a colonoscopy, due to the person having problems with coagulation or respiratory distress, for example.
Before taking these tests, the doctor may also ask you do to some changes in your diet and lifestyle to confirm that the symptoms are not being produced by less serious situations like food intolerances or Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Treatment for coloretal cancer can be done with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or immunotherapy, depending on the location, size and development of the tumor. According to a study done in California, cancer on the left side of the intestine is easier to heal and the average life expectancy is greater. However, all indicated treatments can be done in any case of colon cancer to help cure the disease.
Colon cancer has a greater probability of being cured if it is diagnosed at the onset of the disease and treatment promptly, but if the colorectal tumor is discovered at an advanced stage the chances of cure decrease.
Surgery for colon cancer
Surgery is usually the first method used in treatment, and can be performed on stage 1, 2 or 3 cancer. The goal is to remove the tumor, a part of the affected bowel and a small part of the healthy bowel, to ensure that there are no cancer cells remaining in the region.
In the case of early stage cancer, surgery is performed shortly after the diagnosis of the disease, while surgery on rectal cancer is only performed after 8 to 12 weeks of treatment with chemotherapy to decrease tumor size and improve the chances of a cure.
Recovery after coloretal cancer surgery is time-consuming and the patient may have:
- Diarrhea or bleeding;
- Pain during intercourse.
These side effects depend on the size and location of the tumor, the type of surgery and your general state of health. However to reduce the tumor size your oncologist doctor may prescribe painkillers and vitamin supplements.
Chemotherapy for coloretal cancer
Chemotherapy is recommended for cancer stage 3, 4 or 5 and consists of the use of drugs that kill cancer cells, and may be in the form of pills or injection. The duration of the treatment can range from 6 months to 1 year or more.
The main types of chemotherapy used in bowel cancer can be:
- Adjuvant: performed after surgery to destroy cancer cells that were not removed in surgery;
- Neoadjuvant: used before surgery to decrease the tumor and facilitate its removal;
- For advanced cancer stage 5: used to decrease tumor size and relieve symptoms caused by metastases.
Some examples of remedies used in chemotherapy are Capecitabine, 5-FU and Irinotecan. The main side effects of chemotherapy may be hair loss, vomiting, loss of appetite and recurrent diarrhea.
Radiation therapy for colon cancer
Radiation therapy can be done instead of chemotherapy or to complete chemotherapy because it also helps kill cancer cells where it is applied, especially in patients with stage 3 or 4 bowel cancer. This type of treatment can be applied in different ways:
- External: the radiation comes from a machine, and the patient must go to the hospital to do the treatment, for 5 days a week.
- Internal: the radiation comes from an implant containing radioactive material placed next to the tumor, and the patient should remain in the hospital for a few days for treatment.
The side effects of radiation therapy are generally less aggressive than those of chemotherapy, but include skin irritation in the treated region, nausea, fatigue, and irritation of the rectum and bladder. These effects tend to decrease at the end of treatment, but irritation of the rectum and bladder may persist for months.
Immunotherapy for colon cancer
Immunotherapy uses certain antibodies that are injected into the body to identify and attack cancer cells, preventing tumor growth and the chances of metastases. These drugs do not affect normal cells thus decreasing the side effects.
The most commonly used immunotherapy drugs are Bevacizumab, Cetuximab or Panitumumab. The side effects of immunotherapy in treatment for bowel cancer can be rashes, stomach pain, diarrhea, bleeding, light sensitivity or breathing problems.