About Colon Cancer in Women
Colon-Colorectal Cancer is a cancer that develops in the mucosal lining of the colon and rectum (which are parts of the bowel). It starts as an abnormal polyp and, if left untreated, can spread throughout the colon and metastasize to other organs. Approximately 70,000 women develop colorectal cancer in the US each year. It is more prevalent than all gynecologic cancers combined. In fact, it is the 3rd leading cause of cancer death in women following lung and breast cancer. Despite its prevalence, recent US consensus reports show that only 63% of women get properly screened for colorectal cancer.
Signs and Symptoms of colorectal cancer include:
- abdominal pain
- change in bowel habits
- bloody stools
- black tarry stools
- other changes in the color or consistency of stools
- weakness and/or unexplained onset of fatigue
- Unexplained and sudden weight loss
- persistent fever
- bloating and/or or abdominal pressure
- unusual changes in fingernails, hair, and/or skin
- lump or swelling of lymph nodes (either in armpit and/or neck)
- loss of appetite, difficulty eating or feeling of fullness
- night sweats
- gas and/or diarrhea
- nausea and vomiting
- shortness of breath
- formation of ascites (collection of fluid in the abdomen, causingbloating& shortness of breath)
Risk Factors for colorectal cancer include:
- family history of colorectal cancer
- genetic factors, such as having Lynch syndrome
- having inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
- heavy alcohol consumption
- consumption of red meats cooked well-done at high temperatures, including barbequed, broiled, grilled, and high-heat pan fried.
Screening and Diagnosis of colorectal cancer
All women are recommended to begin colorectal screening at the age of 50. The most sensitive test is a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy is a procedure where a camera is inserted through the rectum and into the colon and the lining of the rectum and colon are directly visualized to look for any abnormalities. If there are any abnormal growths, polyps or tumors, they can be biopsied or removed at the same time. Unless otherwise indicated by your doctor, a colonoscopy should be performed every 10 years. Other accepted screening tests are a flexible sigmoidoscopy, performed every 5 years or a double contrast barium enema, also performed every 5 years. Be sure to consult your doctor to determine which screening test is best for you.
Improved detection rates possible with new generation colonoscopes
A new and improved colonoscope called the 3rd Eye Retroscope by Avantis has significantly improved the detection of colon cancer because it can not only look forward like traditional colonoscopes, but also looks behind and underneath the folds of the bowel (hence the term retroscope). Its somewhat analogous to the rear view cameras that many new cars now have which help prevent accidents because drivers can see a panoramic rear view as they back out of their driveway, for example. Because of this new backward-looking colonoscope, studies have found that the 3rd Eye Retroscope detects as many as 30-50% more cancers, which otherwise would have gone undetected by older versions of the colonoscope. Therefore, be sure to request that your doctor use this instrument, as opposed to outdated devises.
Prevention: Protective factors for colorectal cancer include:
- Regular physical activity recent studies show that patients who exercise at least 30 minutes for 3 days a week had a 24% reduction in risk of colorectal cancer
- High fiber diet
- Postmenopausal women who are on hormone replacement therapy (HRT): Prevention of colorectal cancer is not an indication to start HRT, however, studies have shown that women on HRT have lower rates of colorectal cancer than those postmenopausal women not on HRT
Contrary to popular beliefs, gynecological cancers can be treated minimally invasively
The removal of gynecological cancers previously required a large incision along the entire length of the abdomen (laparotomy), often hip bone to hip bone. These painful surgical methods of yesteryear often led to serious, life-threatening complications that often caused more injury (and mortality) than the cancer itself. However, Drs. Camran and Farr Nezhat proved that such debilitating large incisions were no longer necessary when they became the first to completely remove even the largest gynecological tumors (including para aortic lymph node dissection) laparoscopically and robotically. And, because laparoscopy provides better visualization of the abdominal cavity, it actually allows surgeons to remove even more cancerous growths and perform even more complete lymph node dissections than was possible using the traditional surgical technique of laparotomy.