Colon and rectal cancers are the second most prevalent type of cancer. They follow right behind the incidences of lung cancer in men, and are the third most prevalent cancer after breast and lung cancer in women. Colon cancer, or colorectal type cancer, grows slowly over several years.
It begins as small, benign growths known as polyps. These are often detected during a colonoscopy. By removing these polyps early, when they are still benign, the chance of developing colorectal cancer is greatly reduced. If the polyps are left to grow, the cells in the mucous membrane of the colon, the epithelia, can become cancerous. Once this happens, they can grow and replicate in an uncontrolled way.
The body is unable to organize these cells and form a mass called a tumor. Malignant tumors in the colon can pass through the colon and spread to other parts of the body. This is what makes colon cancer especially dangerous.
About the Colon
The colon and the rectum are both a part of the bowel or the large intestine. The colon is muscular tubing that measures about five feet in length. It absorbs nutrients and water from the food that passes through it.
The rectum is the lower six inches of the digestive tract that holds stool. Stool contains waste the body does not need. It is passed through the anus. The colon is made up of four separate sections. Each section has a different name but there is a section that is most affected by cancer.
Most malignancies begin in the sigmoid colon. This portion is just above the rectum. The cancerous cells will usually develop in the inner layer of the sigmoid and then grow to the other layers of tissue that make up the rectum and the colon. Cancer can develop in any section of the colon and the extent to which it penetrates various levels of tissue determines how severe the cancer is.
Everyone is at risk of potentially developing colon cancer at some point. Most colon cancers affect older individuals. However, it can strike younger people, too. Most of these individuals have a history of colon or rectal cancer in their families. Also, these individuals often have suffered from chronic ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Diet does appear to be a factor in the development of colon cancer.
The Symptoms of Colon Cancer
There are symptoms or warning signs that indicate cancer is present. Of course, the following symptoms can also indicate other health problems, so it is important to have any unusual, recurring symptoms talked about with a doctor.
One of the main symptoms is bloating or swelling in the abdomen. As colon cancer grows in the transverse or descending and sigmoid colons, it causes obstructions. These obstructions create a build-up of pressure that swells the abdomen and causes discomfort that can lead to nausea and vomiting.
Blood in the stool is another symptom of colon cancer. This type of bleeding is not always visible so it can only be detected with a special test. In some cases, however, the bleeding is visible. As tumors grow and expand, they can be traumatized and start to bleed.
Anemia can also indicate a prescence of colon cancer. As tumors bleed, they lead to an iron deficiency or full-blown anemia. Pain in the lower part of the body can indicate that a tumor has penetrated the colon wall and has begun invading other tissues.
If the cancer spreads to the bladder, it can cause urinary tract problems. Another warning sign is called “wasting syndrome.” This is a condition where a person experiences a loss of appetite, weight and strength.
Again, the above symptoms can also indicate other conditions. However, it is important to have any or all of them checked with the proper diagnostic procedures in order to rule out cancer.
Screening for Cancer
Colon cancer is a slow growing disease. However, once it breaks through the colon, it can enter the lymphatic system and grow quickly. It can reach the liver and the lungs as well as the pelvic bone quickly. It can also affect the clavicle, depending on its origination.
A well-trusted gastroenterology clinic across Central Texas recommends screenings for colon cancer in healthy individuals start at age 50. Screening should consist of a yearly digital rectal examination and a fecal occult blood test.
A sigmoidoscopy should be done every three to five years. Anyone with a first-degree relative, a parent, sibling or child, who had colon cancer before age 55 should have screenings starting at 40 years of age.
Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancerous death. More than 50 percent of all new cases involve metastasis by the time of diagnosis. Nearly 102,900 Americans will be diagnosed with colon cancer this year, and about 48,100 will die from it this year. Eighty to 90 million Americans are at risk of developing colon cancer. If colon cancer is detected early and treated, the survival rate is high.
The recommended method for screening for colon cancer is a colonoscopy. If no polyps or tumors are found and there are no risk factors, the screening should be done every 10 years. Alternative recommended screening methods include the digital rectal examination or DRE once a year, or the fecal occult blood test (or FOBT).
A sigmoidoscopy, preferably a flexible-endoscopic one, should be conducted every three to five years. As with the colonoscopy, anyone that has a first-degree relative who had cancer under 55 years of age should start being tested for it by the age of 40.
Medical Malpractice Related to Colon Cancer
It is alarming to note that there is a high incidence of medical malpractice related to the diagnosis of colon cancer. Even though it is the second most common type of cancer in the US, and results in over 48,000 deaths a year, too many women and men have experienced a delay in proper diagnosis.
Either doctors fail to perform the appropriate screening tests, or they fail to interpret test results properly. When physicians also fail to take necessary steps when colon cancer symptoms are present or are reported, they are being negligent. The result of this negligence is tragic. Either the patient loses time for getting proper treatment or loses time while the diagnosis is failing to be made. This can result in losing a chance for survival.
I use my expertise as a lawyer to explain how medical malpractice arises when a physician fails to diagnose colon cancer in a timely manner. I help people understand what is involved in pursuing a medical malpractice claim. I offer a free, convenient consultations to anyone who believes they have been a victim of medical negligence.
You May Have a Claim
A report by the Institute of Medicine states that medical errors are responsible for at least 44,000 deaths each year in the United States. When it comes to failing to diagnose or treat colon cancer, the common forms of negligence or malpractice include:
- Not performing a routine digital rectal examination
- Not identifying a cancerous mass following a regular digital rectal exam
- Failing to do a sigmoidoscopy or a colonoscopy
- Failing to order the appropriate diagnostic examinations to test for colon cancer when a patient exhibits persistent symptoms that colon cancer causes
- Misinterpreting or failing to react to biopsy results
- Failing to recommend appropriate treatments and
- Not following up properly with the patient
The above list is only an example of what malpractice and negligence encompass. It is not meant to be exhaustive. If you suspect your doctor failed to diagnose and/or treat your colon cancer or that of your loved one, contact an attorney to discuss your situation right away.