Colon cancer often causes very few or no noticeable symptoms in its early stages, which is why having regular colonoscopies is so important for ensuring the disease is caught in its earliest stages when treatment generally is simpler, less invasive and more effective. As the disease progresses, it can cause symptoms like:
Symptoms may vary depending on the stage of the disease, the size of the tumor and its location.
Colon cancer is diagnosed with a colonoscopy, a minimally-invasive procedure that uses a state-of-the-art probe system to see inside the colon. During the colonoscopy, the doctor looks for fleshy growths called polyps as well as other abnormal areas of tissue, removing them so they can be evaluated under a microscope to check for cancer cells or other cellular changes. The American Cancer Society recommends colon cancer screening every 10 years beginning at age 50 or earlier and more frequently for those with risk factors for the disease, including a family history of colon cancer.
Since almost all colorectal cancers (CRC) develop from polyps, timely detection and removal of these pre-cancerous lesions can prevent colon cancer. It is important to know when an examination is required. Patients at average risk (no family or personal history of colon cancer) should receive screening at age 50. Some organizations such as the ASGE recommend that African Americans start CRC screening at age 45. For patients at increased risk for CRC, it is vital that you seek a consultation at GI Health so that we can properly advise you of the best course of action.
While colonoscopy is generally considered the best test to detect and prevent colon cancer due to its ability to remove polyps and biopsy (sample) growths, there are a few other options we sometimes recommend based on the situation. The two types of stool tests include the proven fecal immunochemical test (FIT) which as approximately 60-70% accuracy and the cutting edge multi-target fecal DNA test, Cologuard with accuracy in the 90% range. While these are easy, non-invasive tests, an abnormal result would typically require a follow-up colonoscopy. CT colonography is a non-invasive radiographic option that allows for high accuracy detection of colon cancer and polyps, although lesions detected generally require further intervention with colonoscopy.
Treatment for colon cancer depends largely on the stage of the disease as well as the patient’s overall health. If the cancer is contained completely within a polyp, it may be treated with polyp removal during the colonoscopy. A second colonoscopy may be ordered to ensure all the cancerous tissue has been removed. Larger polyps may be removed using minimally-invasive techniques that rely on very small incisions or with larger incisions to remove portions of the bowel. Radiation and chemotherapy may also be recommended following surgery. Targeted therapy using special medications may also be prescribed for some patients. We at GI Health have a strong and diverse network of surgical specialists at the best New York institutions including New York Presbyterian, Mount Sinai and NYU Hospitals.