Colon Cancer & Information on Second Opinions and Treatment
What is Colon Cancer?
Colon cancer is cancer that starts in the large bowel. As the large bowel is made up of the colon, rectum and anus, colon cancer can also be referred to as bowel or colorectal cancer. Although people of all ages can be affected by colon cancer, it is often older adults over the age of 60 who are most at risk. If spotted early enough and with the right treatment, colorectal cancer can be cured and the risk of it coming back can be reduced. Your care team should go through the treatment options with you, while getting a second opinion for colon cancer can also help you make an informed decision about your care.
Symptoms of Colon Cancer
The symptoms of colon cancer can gradually present themselves over time however they can often be confused with other conditions. It is recommended to keep a close eye on your symptoms and if they get worse or if you experience them for a prolonged period (over 3 weeks) to talk to a doctor. The earlier you get checked out and diagnosed can increase the likelihood of being able to treat the cancer or any other condition you may actually have.
Symptoms that are often reported in those with bowel cancer include:
- Changes in bowel movements which may include pooing more frequently or changes in your stools e.g. could be looser or runnier.
- Finding blood in your poo
- You may experience bloating, tummy pains or discomfort as a result of eating. If this happens, you may avoid eating which then results in weight loss.
- In extreme cases, digestive waste may not be able to pass through the bowel. This is known as bowel obstruction which can lead to extreme tummy pain, weight loss, stomach swelling and being sick.If you suspect that you have a bowel obstruction, you should seek medical advice as an emergency.
Causes of Colon Cancer
There are many reasons why an individual could develop bowel cancer. Factors may include age, genetics and family history, nutrition, smoking, alcohol, weight and digestive conditions however the exact cause is unknown. This means one or a combination of factors could present themselves as risk factors. Colon Cancer actually develops when clumps of cells, otherwise known as polyps present themselves on the inner lining of the large bowel. As polyps can multiply over time, they can develop into a tumour which is how colon cancer develops. It’s important to note that even if you have polyps, this does not necessarily mean you will get bowel cancer. Many healthcare systems offer colon cancer screenings that can identify whether you have polyps and these can be removed before they pose a risk.
Diagnosis & Prognosis of Colon Cancer
When you are experiencing symptoms, it is important to see a doctor as soon as possible so they can assess everything and make a diagnosis early on. Your GP may ask you about your symptoms and family history while a series of tests may also be performed. These tests may include:
Digital Rectal Examination
This is where your doctor will check if there are any lumps in your bottom or stomach. This can be uncomfortable however the test can be done quickly minimising any discomfort you may experience.
Your GP may recommend getting a blood test to check if you have an iron deficiency. While this isn’t a primary symptom of bowel cancer, lack of iron could be caused by bleeding from colon cancer.
While there are some tests your GP can carry out, for a more detailed examination to assess your condition, you may be referred to a hospital for other tests. One of these tests is a flexible sigmoidoscopy whereby a long, narrow tube with a camera and light on the end of it will be used to examine your back passage and large bowel. This is done by inserting the tube into the bottom which then feeds into your bowel. The camera on the end of it takes images that can be seen on a monitor so doctors can have a closer look at what is happening inside your bowel. A sigmoidoscopy can also be a bit uncomfortable however the whole process is usually over in a couple of minutes.
A colonoscopy involves using a narrow device, slightly longer than the sigmoidoscopy device that is used to examine the whole of your large bowel. For it to work effectively, your bowel should be empty prior to the procedure being carried out. The camera on the end of the colonoscopy device sends images to a monitor where the doctor can look at your bowel in more detail and see if there are any abnormalities that could be cancerous. The examination takes around an hour and to help you relax, you will be given a sedative. For this reason, you may want to arrange transport or get a relative to drive you home afterwards.
Where it’s not possible to look at the colon properly using a colonoscopy, a CT scan may be required to provide further 3D imaging of your bowel. Your bowels may also need to be empty for the test to be effective. This test involves inflating the bowel using gas in a narrow, tube in your bottom. The scans taken will help your doctor see if there are signs of cancer.
Colon Cancer Grades and Stages
If you or a close relative or friend has colorectal cancer, it is important to understand the stage and grade as this can have an impact on what treatment method is most suitable to cure or reduce the size of the tumour.
The stage of cancer you have will depend on how large the tumour is or how much it has spread, but there may be other factors that impact the stage. There are 5 stages of colon cancer from 0-5. Your physicians may use a combination of diagnostic tests to assess the stage of your cancer.
When you are diagnosed, your doctor should go through your diagnosis including what stage the cancer is at, answering any questions you may have to guide you in making the choices that are right for you. A second opinion with a different doctor can sometimes provide more detail on the stage and grade of your colon cancer which can further help you consider all your options and make an informed decision.
What Are the Benefits of Getting Second Opinion for Colon Cancer
Getting a second opinion for any type of cancer is entirely normal. Understanding your options and ensuring you are in control of your care to ensure you are confident in it are some of the common reasons and benefits of having a second opinion.
A second opinion for colorectal cancer will be done by a different doctor who has experience in diagnosing and treating this type of cancer. The doctor will provide a second assessment and will usually involve reviewing your diagnosis and your treatment plan. While radiotherapy and chemotherapy can be common treatment methods for colon cancer, with new research and developments other treatments such as immunotherapy and CyberKnife could be options for you.
A second opinion can present you with alternative treatment options that you may not have considered and that actually may be more suitable in treating the stage and grade of colon cancer you have. They say knowledge is power and, having as much information as you can about the options you have means you can make the best decision for you and your family.
With OncoloMed, we can facilitate a second opinion through our network of colon cancer specialists. As part of our service, we will find the most appropriate doctor with the right expertise, and we will forward all the relevant images, scans and other documents to them on behalf of you. It can sometimes be difficult to find a different doctor however with OncoloMed, we will help you with the aspects of organising a second opinion so you can focus on your health and those around you. Find out more about how to get a second opinion through OncoloMed. We would recommend prior to your consultation to write down a list of questions to ensure you are fully prepared. Take a look at our guide to questions to ask when getting a second opinion.
Treatment Methods for Colon Cancer
With advancements in research, there are a vast range of treatment methods of colorectal cancer that are now available – some of which may be more common than others. Standard treatment options for colon cancer may include surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
More novel treatments for colon cancer that may be options to consider include NanoKnife, RFA, CyberKnife and Immunotherapy. If you are considering methods that haven’t been offered to you, you should consult with your doctor to find out whether any of them will be appropriate for you. Every method has advantages and disadvantages and not every method will be suitable depending on your case.
Colon Cancer Treatment by Stage
Your treatment choices may differ depending on the stage of the colon cancer. All treatments are designed to cure the cancer however in early stages, the goal may be removing the cells completely while in advanced stages, it could be to remove as much as is possible so you can live as long as possible while maintaining a decent quality of life. Your care team should go through all your options with you while getting a second opinion could also ensure you consider all your options based on the stage of your colon cancer.
Treatment for Stage 0 Colon Cancer
Usually when you have been diagnosed with stage 0 colon cancer it means that the cancer is contained in the inner lining of the colon or rectum. This means it hasn’t spread and in most cases surgery should be able to remove the tumour depending on the complexity and size. Radiation therapy is another common treatment choice for stage 0 colon cancer.
Treatment for Stage 1 Colon Cancer
For those diagnosed with stage 1 colorectal cancer, this means the tumours may have potentially spread beyond the inner lining to the second and third layers. Similarly to stage 0 colon cancer, surgery should be an effective treatment method however if surgery isn’t possible there are other treatment options such as RFA.
Treatment for Stage 2 Colon Cancer
If colon cancer has progressed to stage 2, it means that the tumour is potentially larger and goes beyond the muscular wall of the large bowel. At this point, the tumour may have also spread elsewhere in the body such as to the bladder or prostate. At this stage, common treatment options include radiation and chemotherapy. If the cancer has started to spread, treatment such as regional chemotherapy could be an alternative option too.
Treatment for Stage 3 Colon Cancer
If you have been diagnosed with stage 3 colorectal cancer, this means the cancer has spread to one or more lymph nodes. Depending on how many lymph nodes it has spread to, the stage of your cancer may be defined as Stage 3A, Stage 3B or Stage 3C. Again, common treatment options may include surgery to kill the tumours and remove the lymph nodes, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Treatment for Stage 4 Colon Cancer
Stage 4 colorectal cancer is where the cancer has spread to areas of the body that are not close to the original tumour. Otherwise known as metastatic cancer, it may have spread to organs such as the liver or lungs. A broad range of treatment methods used on their own or in combination may be used to treat cancer at this stage in order to kill the cancer completely or reduce the size of it. Treatment may include surgery, types of radiation therapy, immunotherapies and chemotherapy.
How OncoloMed Can Facilitate Colon Cancer Treatment
Not every treatment may be possible in the country that you live. This may be because specialist centres are required to perform some of the newer treatment alternatives that are mentioned above. In addition to this, you may want to consider other treatment methods if you are waiting for treatment or if your cancer has progressed.
No matter the reason, OncoloMed can support you in accessing alternative colon cancer treatments. In addition to our second opinion services, we can facilitate treatment through our network of clinics and expert doctors, helping you not only find the best treatment but the most suitable clinic to provide the treatment.