If caught early enough, colon cancer can be treated. Today, we’re going to look at several of the various treatment options currently available, but before we do so, let’s just remind ourselves of what we mean by colon cancer and its impact on the world.
What is Colon Cancer?
Today 1 in 23 men and 1 in 25 women run the risk of being affected by Colon Cancer. In 2020 over 1.0 million new Colon Cancer or as it is sometimes referred to; Colorectal Cancer cases were diagnosed worldwide, and in Malaysia, the figure stood at 6,597.
Colon cancers are caused by growths within the colon’s inner lining, called polyps. The chance of a polyp developing into cancer depends on factors, like the type of polyp (adenomatous polyps, which are considered precancerous) or if it has abnormal cells (called dysplasia).
With regular screenings, most polyps can be found and successfully removed before they turn into cancer. Typical colon cancer screening tests may include visible tests (colonoscopy) and at-home stool tests (fecal immunochemical test).
Treating Colon Cancer
When it comes to treating Colon cancer, there are two main categories of treatments. These include local treatments that target one specific area, such as surgery or radiation and systemic, or body-wide, treatments that have a much wider net and include chemotherapy or targeted biologic therapies. Depending on your physical health, cancer stage, and personal choice, your doctor may elect one treatment or a combination.
Surgical removal is the treatment of choice for most early-stage colon cancers, but the type of surgery depends on factors like how far cancer has spread and where it’s located in the colon.
Many early colon cancers (stage 0 and some early-stage 1 tumours) and most polyps can be removed during a colonoscopy. During a polypectomy, the cancerous polyp is cut at the stalk using a wire loop instrument passed through the colonoscope, a long, flexible tube with a camera and light at its tip.
Colectomy surgery involves a specialist, called a colorectal surgeon, who removes a portion (or portions) of the intestine. Seldom is a total colectomy required, in which the entire colon is removed to treat colon cancer. A total colectomy may be used to treat those with hundreds of polyps (like people with familial adenomatous polyposis) or those with severe inflammatory bowel disease.
A colostomy is created when part of the large intestine is inserted through an abdominal wall opening. The part of the colon that is on the outside of the body is called a stoma (Greek for “mouth”). The stoma is pink, like gum tissue, and does not feel pain. Following this surgery, an external bag is worn on the abdomen to collect the necessary waste. The bag is emptied several times a day and changed regularly.
In some instances, radiation therapy may be used in the treatment of colon cancer. Radiation therapy uses a specific type of X-ray to kill cancer cells and can be used in conjunction with chemotherapy and colon cancer surgery.
A radiation oncologist will provide targeted radiation treatments to reduce any painful symptoms of cancer, kill any remaining cancer cells suspected after surgery or from recurrence, or as a form of treatment if a person is unable to tolerate surgery.
Radiation therapy sessions usually occur five days per week and are painless procedures. However, a person may experience skin irritation (like a sunburn) at the radiation site and nausea or vomiting at some point during treatment.
Targeted colon cancer treatments can be used either with chemotherapy or by themselves if chemotherapy is no longer working.
These drugs usually recognise the protein growth factors that cover cancerous cells, such as the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) or the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), or proteins located inside the cell.
Some of these drugs are antibodies administered intravenously, which specifically attack the proteins they bind to, and they only kill cells covered in these factors and have the potential for fewer side effects than chemotherapy agents.
In instances where colon cancer has spread to other organs, like the liver or lung (called metastatic colon cancer), surgery may be required to remove one or more of those spots.
Many factors go into deciding how to best treat metastatic colon cancer, including the number of metastatic lesions, where they’re located, and a patient’s goals of care. In some instances, non-surgical procedures may also be used to destroy or shrink metastatic lesions.
Complementary Medicine (CAM)
Research suggests that combining chemotherapy with Chinese herbal therapies and other vitamins and supplements (for example, antioxidants) can help improve colon cancer survival rates compared to chemotherapy alone. However, while incorporating complementary medicine into your colon cancer care is a reasonable idea, be sure only to do this under your oncologist’s guidance, as this will help prevent any unwanted side effects or interactions.
Colon cancer in COVID times
Despite the difficult times we live in, and even though colorectal cancer is typically linked to getting older, it is on the rise in adults younger than age 50, so people of all ages must continue to get checked.
Early detection and treatment of colon cancer can improve your prognosis (treatment outcome) and quality of life. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, when stage 1, colon cancer is detected and treated early, 92% of people are alive five years or more after treatment.
About Cancer Pro
Cancer Pro is the voice of the world’s cancer physicians and oncology professionals in Malaysia and is the trusted compassionate resource for people with cancer, their families and caregivers. For more information regarding all aspects of Colon cancer and the various treatments available, please visit www. cancer-pro.com.