Colon Cancer

Glossary: Colon Cancer

Here are definitions of medical terms related to colon cancer.

Adenocarcinomas: The most common type of bowel tumors. They are usually found in the inner lining of the intestine.

Adenoma: A benign tumor usually made up of gland or gland-like cells. It may crowd out surrounding healthy tissues.

Anastomosis: Surgical reattachment of the two ends of the colon, known also as the bowel, after a portion of the colon is removed by the surgeon.

Anesthesia: In general anesthesia, a drug or combination of drugs used to put the patients “to sleep” during a surgical procedures or operations. In local anesthesia, only a portion of the body’s response to pain is blocked.

Barium Enema: An x-ray procedure during which a special, white chalky liquid is passed into the colon through the anus. This liquid contains barium, a compound that is highly visible on x-rays film allowing the radiologist to see possible abnormalities in the colon.

Barium Meal: A special liquid solution that contains barium, which is highly visible on x-ray film. The patient drinks the solution, waits for a period of time, and then has x-rays taken of the intestines.

Biological therapy: See Immunotherapy.

Biopsy: A relatively small piece of tissue taken from an area of suspicious growth. The tissue is examined under a microscope to determine if cancer cells are present. If they are present, the pathologist performs additional tests on these cancer cells. These tests tell the doctor what type of cancer is present as well as other important factors that help determine the course of treatment.

Bowel resection: Surgical removal of part of the intestines. During this procedure, the diseased portion of the colon is removed and the remaining ends are joined together by the surgeon.

Carcinoid tumors: A rare type of cancer that occurs in the gastrointestinal system. It is usually a slow-growing cancer.

Catheter: A small tube that permits the passage of fluid into a body structure, like a vein, or out of the body, as with a urinary catheter.

CEA tumor marker test: A special blood test that measures the level of a substance in the blood known as carcinoembryonic antigen. This marker is usually higher than normal in people with active colon cancer.

Chemotherapy: The use of special drugs to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy is usually given according to a schedule. Usually a period of treatment is followed by a period of “drug vacation.” Then the treatment cycle begins again.

Colon: The major part of the large intestine including the rectum.

Colonoscope: A special instrument used to examine the inner walls of the colon. This long, flexible instrument uses fiberoptics to send images of the colon to a monitor for viewing by the physician.

Colonoscopy: An examination of the inside of the colon with a special instrument known as a colonoscope.

Colostomy: A surgical procedure used in the treatment of colon cancer when the cancer is located low in the rectum. The cancerous tumor and surrounding tissue are removed and a new opening is created in the abdominal wall for the elimination of waste. During this procedure, a section of colon is attached to the abdominal wall to an artificial opening or stoma. Waste material passes through the stoma into a bag.

Crohn’s disease: A chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) characterized by diarrhea, cramping, and loss of appetite with weight loss.

CT scanning: An advanced imaging technique also known also as CAT scanning or computerized axial tomography. During this procedure, a computer-assisted scanner produces cross-sectional images of the body.

Digital rectal exam (DRE): An examination during which a doctor inserts a lubricated, gloved finger into the rectum to check the area for masses or other abnormalities, such as enlargement of the prostate in men.

Diverticulosis: A condition of the bowel in which abnormal pockets form on the inner wall of the colon. These pockets are frequently inflamed or infected, causing intestinal discomfort and pain.

Enema: A procedure during which fluid is passed into the rectum through a tube inserted in the anus. An enema may be used as a treatment or to clear the intestine of feces in preparation for a diagnostic test.

Excision: The act of surgical removal, or the “cutting out,” of tissue from the body.

Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP): A rare genetic disorder of the intestines characterized by “carpet-like” growths of polyps that develop along the inner walls of the colon. These areas of abnormal growth typically develop at a relatively young age.

Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT): A special test, also called a blood stool test, used to detect microscopic blood in the stool.

Gastroenterologist: A physician specially trained in the management of digestive system disorders.

Hemorrhoids: Widening of the veins in the anus causing itchy discomfort, pain, and bleeding. When hemorrhoids bleed it may be confused with bleeding due to other causes such as colon cancer

Hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (HNPCC): A rare, genetic condition that greatly increases an individual’s risk of colon cancer. For most people, polyps are not associated with HNPCC.

Herniation: A rip or tear in the musculature of the body, as a tear through the abdominal wall, pelvic floor or diaphragm.

Immunotherapy: An experimental therapy that helps the body to mount its own defenses against cancer by bolstering the immune system. Immunotherapy is also known as biological therapy.

Intravenous (IV) infusion: The delivery of fluids, drugs, nutrition, etc. through a small plastic tube inserted into a vein. The hands or arms are common sites for the establishment of an intravenous line.

Lymphatic system: A network of vessels, similar but distinct from the blood vessel system, that carries lymphatic fluid throughout the body. This fluid bathes the body’s tissues and contains specialized cells that help fight infection.

Malignancy: Uncontrolled division and growth of abnormal cells. These cancerous cells replace otherwise normal cells of the body.

Metastasis: A process by which cancer spreads through the body. Cancer may spread to an area near its original location or may reach other parts of the body through the lymphatic system.

Pathologist: A physician who specializes in the study of pathology or the evaluation of laboratory and functional tests to determine the nature or cause of a disease process. A pathologist’s report can provide valuable information that helps doctors to treat a variety of diseases, including colon cancer.

Polyps: Small, noncancerous growths in the moist, mucous membranes that line certain body cavities or organ systems. Polyps are most commonly found in the colon. They may eventually become cancerous and require surgical removal.

Radiation Therapy: The use of powerful beams of energy known as ionizing radiation to destroy cancer cells, thereby shrinking or eliminating a tumor.

Sigmoid: Literally, the “S-shaped” portion of the colon. This area of the colon is located between the descending colon and the rectum.

Sigmoidoscope: A specialized instrument used to examine the inner walls of the rectum and sigmoid colon. The device is a soft, flexible tube with a tiny video camera at the leading portion of the tube.

Sigmoidoscopy: A diagnostic procedure that uses a flexible viewing tube to allow the doctor to see the inner walls of the colon. During this procedure, a tube is gently passed into the colon through the anus.

Stoma: A temporary opening in the abdominal wall that allows the end of the small or large intestine to be brought through the abdomen and fastened onto the surface of the skin. This enables waste materials from the intestines to pass through the stoma and empty into a bag called a colostomy bag. This flexible bag is fastened to the skin around the stoma and fits close to the body.

Tumor: A growth or mass of cells in the body that may be benign (not cancerous) or cancerous.

Ulcerative colitis: An inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) characterized by chronic inflammation of the inner lining of the colon and rectum. Symptoms may include diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, cramping, and an urgent need to defecate.

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