Another helpful technique in diagnosing colon cancer is the stool-guaiac test or occult stool blood test which helps the doctor detect blood in your stool that is invisible to the naked eye. You should have one annually after the age of 50.
The results of this test will determine whether you need other screening procedures for colon cancer such as proctosigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy. What are these tongue-twisters?
In the former, the doctor uses a flexible, lighted tube called a proctosigmoidoscope to examine the lower portion of the colon and rectum - the area where cancers are usually found. This should be done initially at the age of 45 and every other year thereafter depending on your condition. For those with a family history of the disease, more frequent tests are required.
"Almost 50 percent of all colorectal cancer or polyps can be seen during such an examination. In addition, diagnosis of other diseases such as Crohn's or ulcerative colitis can be made with this instrument. Samples of tissue can be taken through the instrument for later examination under a microscope (biopsy)," said Dr. David E. Larson, editor-in-chief of the ?Mayo Clinic Family Health Book.?
Colonoscopy, on the other hand, examines the entire colon using a somewhat similar instrument called a fiberoptic endoscope. This gives a clear view of the lining of the colon from the anus to the cecum (the beginning of the large bowel located in the right lower portion of the abdomen).
The endoscope also permits the physician to remove polyps and to search for a cause of chronic or acute bleeding when other tests have failed to do so.
In about half of cases, surgery can cure colon cancer. How extensive this will be depends on the location and size of the cancerous growth. The surgeon may remove the tumor and rejoin healthy pieces of the rectum so the patient can function normally. Or he may remove the entire rectum and create an artificial opening called a stoma on the abdominal wall for stool to pass out. This happens in about 20 percent of cases.
Additional treatment in the form of chemotherapy and radiation may follow. For cancer that has spread to the lungs, little can be done.
"In summary, remember, the key to the cure of colon cancer is early detection and immediate removal of the polyp or tumor. Follow-up chemotherapy and immunotherapy, even if malignancy appears to have been totally cut out, have also been shown to be effective," concluded Dr. Isadore Rosenfeld of the New York Hospital - Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in ?The Best Treatment.?
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