Colon Cancer

Tour the Colon

Do you know what your colon should look like -- or, more importantly, what it shouldn't look like? Gastroenterologist Dr. Jeffrey Sherman takes you inside the colon like you've never seen before! | Part 2

Colon CancerColon cancer is cancer of the large intestine, or colon, which is the lower portion of the digestive tract. Most cases of colon cancer begin as small cell growths, or polyps. Though the polyps are initially benign, or non-cancerous, they can develop into cancer. For this reason, it is vital to have regular exams to detect and monitor the growth of polyps.

Experts believe that one-third of the risk of colon cancer is inherited, but two-thirds is caused by lifestyle and diet. Approximately 150,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with colon cancer every year, and 50,000 people die from it. The average person has a 5 percent risk of developing colon cancer.

Colorectal Cancer
The difference between colon cancer and rectal cancer is the location of the cancerous tissue. Colon cancer forms in the colon, or the large intestine. Rectal cancer forms in the rectum, the last 6 inches of the large intestine.

Colorectal cancer refers to both colon and rectal cancer. Colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer in men and women over the age of 50. Regular screenings for polyps in the colon are essential for early detection and treatment. If left untreated, polyps can develop into cancer. Risk factors, symptoms and screening procedures are the same for both cancers, but treatment can vary.

Dr. Lisa says that women should be sure to get a stool smear performed when they go for their annual pap smears. "It checks for blood in your stool," Dr. Lisa explains. "It's not as good as a colonoscopy, but it's an important thing to do as well."

Colon Cancer Warning Signs

• Abdominal pain
• Changes in stool
• Blood in stool
• Unexplained weight loss
• Fatigue

How to Prevent Colon Cancer
• Have regular screenings
• Limit red meat
• Limit fat intake
• Limit alcohol intake
• Maintain a healthy weight
• Quit smoking
• Exercise
• Eat a healthy diet with plenty of vegetables and leafy greens
• Keep to a diet high in fiber, low in fat
• Get regular screenings after age 50
Learn more about preventing colorectal cancer.

Colon Care

• Make sure to eat plenty of fiber from fruits, vegetables and whole grains
• Limit fat, especially saturated
• Limit alcohol
• Stop smoking
• Maintain a healthy body weight and active lifestyle

A colonoscopy looks at the health and vitality of the inner lining of the colon by snaking a scope up the rectum. It helps to diagnose polyps, tumors, ulcers, inflammation, bleeding and cancer. Regular screenings can catch colorectal cancer early, when it’s treatable, which is why it’s important not to put this test off.

Gastroenterologist Dr. Jeffrey Sherman explains that the inside of a healthy colon should be pink and ruddy. Polyps, or growths, can form on the surface of the colon. The polyps are visible with the aid of a scope.

Everyone should have a colonoscopy at age 50, but if you have a family history of colon cancer, you are at a higher risk of developing the disease, and should have one between ages 38 and 40.

When to Have a Colonoscopy
- People who are over 50
- People with a family history of colon cancer
- People with symptoms of colon cancer: change in bowel movements, rectal bleeding or blood in stool, persistent abdominal discomfort, constipation that doesn't go away, weakness or fatigue

Gastroenterologist Dr. Jorge Rodriguez says that a new option called ColoSure can tell you if you have colon cancer about 80 percent of the time. In this test, you collect your stool sample yourself and mail it into a lab. DNA from the sample is screened for changes that could indicate colon cancer.

Colon Cancer Screening

Gastroenterologist Dr. Jorge Rodriguez explains the latest and most non-invasive colon cancer screening test. WATCH...

Dr. Rodriguez says the ColoSure screening does not replace a colonoscopy, which is the optimum test. “The ColuSure is only for people who have an average risk of colon cancer,” he says. If you have colon cancer in your family, then you need to have a regular colonoscopy.

Dr. Jim admits that colon cancer exists on both sides of his family and it’s been 10 years since his last colonoscopy, which leaves him overdue for one. Dr. Rodriguez suggests that for people with a family history of the cancer, the ColoSure test is good to do in addition to a colonoscopy.

Virtual Colonoscopy
After undergoing gastric-bypass surgery, Holly, 37, began experiencing a number of medical problems.

"I didn't have any major health concerns before the bypass," Holly says, "except for the fact that I weighed 360 pounds."

Holly lost 200 pounds after the surgery, and for the first eight years following the procedure, she felt great. One year ago, however, she began suffering from dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting spells, nausea and fevers. She developed anemia, high blood pressure and hypoglycemia, and suffered from chronic diarrhea that caused her to lose 20 pounds in just five days. As a result, doctors had to remove Holly's gall bladder.

"I had no idea what was going on," she says. "I just felt like my body was crying out [and saying], 'Somebody do something.'

"Doctors are saying that all of these recent medical issues and health problems are because of the gastric bypass," Holly adds.

Most recently, Holly's doctors recommend she get a colonoscopy because of her family's history of colon cancer. But excess scar tissue from previous procedures makes a traditional colonoscopy a risky undertaking, and Holly decides to undergo the procedure virtually. The virtual colonoscopy is a non-invasive option to the traditional colonoscopy. It uses 3-D imaging to look at the colon.

See Holly undergo a virtual colonoscopy and find out her results.

Real-Time Colonoscopies

Dana, 44, undergoes her first colonoscopy.

Dr. Jim Sears undergoes a colonoscopy at Cedars-Sinai Hospial.

A t-Home Colon Test
Colon cancer has a 90 percent cure rate when detected early, and the Colon Health Check, a new at-home fecal occult blood test, may be able to help you detect blood in your stool, which is a symptom of colorectal cancer.

"You take it one time, and it's simple," Montel Williams says. "You do it at home, and it's almost like a home pregnancy test. You take a little tester -- and every now and then, you should look in that toilet before you flush it -- you dip it [into your bowel movement], poke it six times, put it back into a little bottle, shake it up and you put two drops on a little reader. That reader will come up either negative with one stripe or positive with two stripes. If it comes up [positive], then you know that you need to see your doctor because you may have something going on inside of you.

E.R. physician Dr. Travis Stork emphasizes that the Colon Health Check is not a substitute for a colonoscopy. "After age 50, it's recommended that everyone get a colonoscopy," Dr. Travis says. "It's the only way to detect early cancers, because, a lot of times, a polyp won't bleed until it's too late."