Colon Cancer Overview
The human colon is a muscular, tube-shaped organ
measuring about 4 feet long. It extends from the end of your small bowel to your
anus, twisting and turning through your abdomen (belly). The colon has 3 main functions.
- To digest and absorb nutrients from food
- To concentrate fecal material by absorbing fluid (and
electrolytes) from it
- To store and control evacuation of fecal material
The right side of your colon plays a major role in
absorbing water and electrolytes, while the left side is responsible for storage
and evacuation of stool.
Cancer is the transformation of normal cells. The transformed cells grow and multiply abnormally.
- Left untreated, these cancers grow and eventually
spread through the colon wall to involve the adjacent lymph nodes and organs.
Ultimately, they spread to distant organs such as the liver, lungs, brain, and bones.
- Cancers are dangerous because of their unbridled
growth. They overwhelm healthy cells, tissues, and organs by taking their
oxygen, nutrients, and space.
- Most colon cancers are adenocarcinomas-tumors that develop from the glands lining the colon's inner wall.
- These tumors are sometimes referred to as colorectal
cancer, reflecting the fact that the rectum, the end portion of the colon, can also be affected.
In the United States, 1 in 17 people will develop colorectal cancer.
- According to reports from the National Cancer Institute, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in US men.
- Colorectal canceris the second most common cancer in US women of Hispanic, American Indian/Alaska Native, or Asian/Pacific Islander ancestry, and the third most common cancer in white and African American women.
- The overall incidence of colorectal cancer increased until 1985 and then began decreasing at an average rate of 1.6% per year.
- Deaths from colorectal cancer rank third after lung and prostate cancer for men and third after lung and breast cancer for women.
Robert J Fingerote, MD, MSc, BSc
Scott H Plantz, MD, FAAEM
Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD
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