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Colon Cancer

By: Robert Ripley, MD, FACS, General Surgeon

Colon cancer strikes males and females equally. Around the world it is more frequent in industrialized countries, and this suggests genetic and environmental influences. In the United States it affects blacks and whites equally, but Native Americans have a much lower occurrence rate.

Among environmental factors, diet has been implicated frequently. It is felt that a high fiber diet, which speeds up the transit time through the colon, minimizes the contact time of dietary carcinogens to the colonic mucosa. This would then decrease the chances of developing colon cancer.

Genetics is closely related to colon cancer, and was first demonstrated in familial adenomatous polyposis. This condition accounts for less than 1% of colon cancer. It is linked to the APC gene which is located on the long arm of chromosome 5. HNPCC (hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer) or Lynch Syndrome I is another genetic linked cause of colorectal cancer. Typically three or more family members will have had colon cancer, with one being diagnosed before the age of fifty.

Currently, there is no effective prevention for colon cancer, but periodic screening can find precancerous lesions and remove them before they become a cancer. It is recommended that when you reach the age of fifty, you have a screening colonoscopy. Colonoscopy is a procedure using a flexible telescope to look at the inside of the rectum and colon. Additionally, your doctor can perform a yearly check of your stool for occult blood by doing a rectal exam. If you have a family history of early colon cancer (diagnosed before the age of fifty), than colonoscopy would be recommended before you reach the age of fifty. Be sure to let your family physician know about your family history so he or she can advise you when to start your screening.

The treatment for colon cancer is anatomical resection. After the removed portion of the colon has been examined by the pathologist, the cancer can be staged, and further treatment with chemotherapy may be recommended.

Questions about Your Colon Health?
Contact Dr. Robert Ripley: 928-668-5506