• Living With Colon Cancer

    Most colon cancers arise from polyps. These are small growths within the colon that usually do not cause any symptoms. They appear as small bulges from the bowel wall (much like a mushroom protrudes from the ground). Over time the polyps will grow and, under appropriate conditions, turn into colon cancer. If detected early, polyps can be easily removed through colonoscopy, thereby eliminating the polyps and their risk. Since colon cancer typically arises from colonic polyps, and since polyps do not lead to symptoms, early testing may help to detect and remove polyps and prevent progressive disease. It is important for patients at risk to be checked early to prevent cancer from developing.

    Who is at risk of developing colon cancer?

    Genetic predisposition (heredity) greatly increases the risk of colon cancer. A close relative with colon cancer or polyps is a strong risk factor. Persons without symptoms but with a first degree relative (brother, sister, parent or child) who has had colon cancer should begin screening between the age of 40 - 50 or when they are at least ten years younger than the affected relative was when diagnosed. Symptoms may justify earlier testing.

    It appears that an inherited, genetic risk factor is present in at least half of all cases of colon cancer. The more relatives affected, and the younger they are when diagnosed with the disease, the higher the risk to the individual of developing colon cancer.

    It has been estimated that about 35% of all cancers in the United States might be attributable to dietary factors and that many colon cancers may be preventable through dietary modifications.

    A diet high in fat appears to increase the risk of colon cancer, whereas high fiber, including vegetables and fruits, may lower the risk. Some vitamins called antioxidants, like vitamin E, or others like vitamin D or the use of ASA (aspirin), may also lower the chance of getting colon cancer. Smoking and obesity appear to increase the risk of colon cancer, whereas physical activity and the use of aspirin/nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may decrease the risk. Other risk factors include age (anyone over the age of 50), previous colon cancer and/or polyps, and a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Screening of people without these risk factors has been recognized to prevent colon cancer and save lives worldwide.

    Treatment Options

    Most patients with colon cancer have resection surgery where the diseased segment is removed and the bowel on either side of the cancer is reunited. Surgical removal of colon cancer offers a potential for cure. When the growth of the tumour is small, where the cancer has not spread outside the bowel wall, the patient will do well. Larger cancers are typically treated with surgery and afterward the patient may receive chemotherapy (a special drug that kills cancer cells and may be given by mouth or injected through a vein), sometimes in combination with radiation.


Enhancing lifelong health

The Canadian Digestive Health Foundation believes our ability to help establish, enrich and protect a healthy gut microbiota is the key to lifelong health