Colon cancer

Dr. José Luis Hernández Lizoáin, especialista en cirugía general de la Clínica Universidad de Navarra

learn more about colon cancer

The colon or large intestine is the final part of the intestine. It is shaped like a tube and its interior is covered with mucous formed by cells. When one of these cells transforms into a malignant cell and multiplies uncontrollably, colon cancer appears.

The formation of colon cancer is a process which progresses in stages starting with the appearance of a polyp which then becomes malignant.

This malignant tumour can grow locally (invading the layers of the wall of the digestive tract and reaching the organs in the abdomen), by lymphatic spread to the lypmh nodes and haematogenous spread through the blood (to the liver, lungs, bone and brain).

If the tumour is detected at an early stage, it is curable in more than 90% of cases. Therefore, it is vital to detect it early, as it is such a common form of cancer. 80% of the cases occur at random and 20% have a genetic influence.

We have extensive experience and excellent results in treating colorectal cancer.

Imagen preview del infográfico sobre cáncer de colon
Know what is colon cancer and its treatment. [Infography only available in Spanish]
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Futuro del  cáncer de colon: hacia una personalización del tratamiento. El cáncer colorrectal es el tercer tipo de cáncer más frecuente y se estima que es curable en un 90% de los casos si se diagnostica a tiempo. La formación de un cáncer de colon es un proceso en etapas iniciado con la aparición de un pólipo que se transforma en maligno. Para tratar con éxito un cáncer de colon no sólo es importante la rapidez de diagnóstico, sino también la agilidad en establecer el tratamiento correcto.
Customizing treatment due to genetic alterations. [Video only available in Spanish]
Capsule endoscopy noninvasive diagnostic method. [Video only available in Spanish]

The symptoms of colorectal cancer vary depending on its position in the body. 

If you are suffering from some of these symptoms, it is advised that you see a Digestive System Specialist to carry out a diagnosis and any necessary treatment. There are other large intestinal diseases that are not malignant and can cause similar symptomatology.

  • Blood in faeces: one of the most common symptoms of colon cancer. The faeces tend to have a reddish or black colour and if this bleeding persists, anaemia can develop.
  • A feeling of incomplete evacuation of the bowels (tenesmus): usually occurs with tumours located in the last part of the colon or rectum.
  • Change in your digestive rhythm: causing intermittent diarrhoea or constipation in people who previously had a regular digestive rhythm.
  • Smaller faeces: this usually occurs because the tumour is making the intestine narrower and doesn ́t permit the normal amount of faeces to pass through.
  • Abdominal pain: unspecified pain that intensifies when passing gas or passing stools.
  • Extreme fatigue or weight loss with no apparent cause: these are general and unspecific symptoms that are usually given to particular diseases, such as tumours.

Colorectal cancer development depends on the interaction between genetic and environmental factors.

Environmental factors:

These factors are the most important in the majority of cases of colon cancer. If these are identified, many colorectal cancers could be prevented. The most important casual factors are caused by diet.

Hereditary factors:

20% of patients affected by colon cancer have a close family member (parents, siblings or children) diagnosed with this disease. To confirm whether there are genetic factors, a genogram is created with the family history of cancer, not only in the colon, but also in other related areas such as the stomach, ovaries, endometrium, brain, kidney or bile duct. Adenomatous polyposis and nonpolyposis colon cancer can be hereditary. 

In the Clínica we have a Prevention and Consultation of High Risk Digestive Tumours Unit that has extensive experience and the latest technology for detecting this genetic risk.

Everybody has an individual risk of suffering from colon cancer that depends on many factors. Some of these factors are clearly established.

The risk level is normal if you are 50 years old and do not have any of the following risk factors: 

  • Personal or family history of colon cancer or adenomatous polyposis
  • Family history (parents, siblings and/or children) with colon cancer or adenomatous polyposis
  • Family history of multiple types of cancer, especially breast, ovarian and uterine cancer
  • Diagnosis of a chronic inflammatory intestinal disease (ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease)

The Clínica has created a Prevention and Consultation of High Risk Digestive Tumours Unit to determine whether a genetic predisposition exists in a patient and to make the patient's family aware of the possibility that they could contract the tumorous disease. In such a case as this, they will be informed of the appropriate follow-up care to avoid this. Between 3-5% of colon cancer cases correspond to known and identified hereditary cancer syndromes.

Depending on your personal characteristics and family history, periodic testing is advised from a certain age and with a specific regularity. There are also hereditary diseases with higher risk of developing colon cancer.

A colostomy must be cared for as a part of your daily personal hygiene routine.

A colostomy externalises the colon on to the skin and the deposits are collected, either temporally or definitively, in a bag attached to the abdomen.

The patient must correctly clean the stoma and care for the peristomal skin to ensure their wellbeing and safety as a part of their daily personal hygiene routine.

> Learn more about colostomy cares

If a family member has any history of colon cancer, it's advised that you see your doctor carry out an extensive health evaluation".

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