According to data from the American Cancer Society, colon cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the US. The good news is that diagnosing colon cancer early can often lead to a cure.

While breast cancer is the leading cancer diagnosed in women in the US, lung cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in women, and colon cancer is the third most common cancer in Caucasian women.

For women who are African-American or of Asian/Pacific Island decent, colon cancer is the second most common cancer, followed by lung cancer.colon-cancer-symptoms.jpg

What Is Colon Cancer?
Colon cancer occurs in the colon, which is the area of the digestive system that stores waste material. Tumors found in the colon and rectum normally occur in the inner wall of the large intestine. Benign tumors found in the large intestine are known as polyps; malignant tumors located in the large intestine are diagnosed as cancer.

Fortunately, benign polyps are easy to remove through a colonoscopy and will not pose a threat to the health. However, if benign polyps are not removed regularly from the large intestine, they can become cancerous over time. Most cancers that develop in the colon are thought to develop from benign polyps. Colon cancer can also spread to other areas of the body to damage tissues and organs by forming new tumors.

How Colon Cancer Develops
Colon cancer will develop in the lining and glands of the colon and rectum. This is what doctors refer to when they diagnose colorectal cancer.

Colon cancer will start out as a polyp, which describes a growth that could turn into cancer. The two most common types of polyps found in the rectum and colon are:

  1. Hyperplastic/Inflammatory Polyps: These polyps will not normally develop into cancer. However, large hyperplastic polyps found on the right side of the colon are high-risk and should be removed completely.
  2. Adenomas/Adenomatous Polyps: Untreated polyps could develop into colon cancer; these types of polyps are considered to be pre-cancerous.

Colon Cancer Causes and Risk Factors
There is no one known cause of colon cancer, but all cases of colon cancer will begin with benign polyps that eventually develop into cancerous tumors.

While anyone can develop colorectal cancer, it is most common in men and women over the age of 50. Risk factors for colon cancer include:

  • A family history of colon polyps or cancer.
  • A diet high in processed meats and red meats.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.
  • Genetic conditions, such as hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer and familial adenomatous polyposis.
  • Smoking 
  • Obesity
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Type II diabetes

What you eat could also increase your risk of colon cancer. Colon cancer is most often associated with a high-fat, low-fiber diet and excessive consumption of red meat. Other studies indicate that the risk of colon cancer does not decrease if you switch to a high-fiber diet, so more research is necessary to determine the exact link between diet and colon cancer.

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Sources:
    1.    "Colon cancer - PubMed Health." National Center for Biotechnology Information. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Oct. 2011.
    2.    "Leading Cancers in Women, Men, & Children." www.medicinenet.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Oct. 2011.

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