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Colon Cancer

Frequently Asked Questions: Colon Cancer

Tuesday, March 20, 2012 - 18:29

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

Here are some frequently asked questions related to colorectal cancer.

Q: Why isn't everyone screened for cancer?

A: Screening for colorectal cancer is in its early stages. Not all doctors screen for colorectal cancer, or some patients may be reluctant to go for testing. This is unfortunate because widespread screening could save up to 30,000 lives each year. Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S.

Q: Do most people who develop colon cancer have risk factors for the disease?

A: Any person is at risk for colon cancer. Most people are in their 60's and 70's when diagnosed. Therefore age is a risk factor for this disease. Only one in five have other risk factors for the disease, such as family history of colon cancer.

Q: How can you tell whether stomach distress comes from colon cancer or a less serious disease?

A: Less serious diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome,ulcerative colitis or even the flu may cause digestive symptoms and bowel changes that are similar to those of colon cancer. If you are concerned about bowel or digestive symptoms, seek medical advice as soon as possible. The only way to know if the condition is caused by cancer is to undergo testing.

Q: Don't hemorrhoids, not colon cancer, cause rectal bleeding usually?

A: True, hemorrhoids are a common cause of rectal bleeding. But a symptom of colon cancer is bright red blood in the stool. So rectal bleeding should not be dismissed as unimportant and should be investigated as to the specific cause.

Q: How does a person's digestive system function if a large part of the intestine is removed during surgery?

A: The digestive system of most people functions very well after surgery. The small intestine is about 20 feet; the large intestine is about five feet long. People are able to live quite normally without a portion of the small intestine and all of the large intestine. Most digestion takes place before food reaches the colon; therefore, most people function as well as they did before the surgery. The most common change after removal of a portion of the colon is an increased frequency of bowel evacuations.

Q: Do most people who undergo colon cancer surgery have to wear a colostomy bag?

A: No. Recent improvements in surgical techniques have reduced the chances of needing a colostomy bag. And if a colostomy is needed, it is usually not permanent. The procedure may be reversed after the intestines have had the opportunity to recovery from the surgery. In a small number of cases a colostomy may be permanent. But, even in these cases, people become accustomed to a colostomy bag worn inside their clothing for the collection and elimination of waste.

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