Colon cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the large intestine (colon). Though colon cancer can affect someone at any age, it typically affects older adults. This type of cancer begins as small, noncancerous (benign) clumps of cells called polyps that form on the inside of the colon and over time some of these polyps can become cancerous. For this reason, it is important to regularly go for screening tests for early detection and remove the polyps before they turn into cancer.
Colon cancer is at times called colorectal cancer (CRC) which is a term that combines colon cancer and rectal cancer (begins in the rectum). Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the third most common cancer worldwide and the second leading cause of cancer death globally.
According to Globocan data, there were 1,354 estimated new cases and 937 deaths from colorectal cancer in 2018 in Kenya. There is a high probability that there were more cases and deaths that were not reported or even diagnosed. In an earlier Kenyan study, mortality was worse for men. Moreover, colorectal cancer is stable and decreasing in other developed countries whilst unfortunately increasing here in Africa. This is probably as a result of the introduction of a "Western diet" which has led to an increase in obesity cases as well as a higher intake of tobacco and alcohol.
What are the risk factors for colon cancer?
- Older age - Though colon cancer can be diagnosed at any age, it is most common in people older than 50
- Family history of colon cancer - One is more likely to develop colon cancer if he/she has a blood relative who has had the disease. If more than one family member has colon cancer or rectal cancer, the risk is even greater.
- Inactivity - Inactive people are more likely to develop colon cancer. Getting regular physical activity may reduce your risk of colon cancer. Get out there and exercise!
- Diabetes - People with diabetes have an increased risk of colon cancer.
- Obesity - People who are obese also have an increased risk of colon cancer as well as an increased risk of dying of colon cancer when compared with people considered normal weight.
- Smoking and drinking alcohol excessively - People who smoke and drink alcohol in excess are susceptible to getting colon cancer.
- Low-fiber, high-fat diet - Colon cancer may be associated with a typical Western diet, which is low in fiber and high in fat and calories. Some studies have found an increased risk of colon cancer in people who eat diets high in red meat and processed meat.
What can you do to reduce your risk of getting colon cancer?
With these risk factors, the best thing is to adopt a healthy lifestyle
- Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains - Fruits, vegetables and whole grains contain vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants, that may play a role in cancer prevention.
- Exercise most days of the week - Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days. Brisk walking is an excellent example.
- Maintain a healthy weight - If you are at an healthy weight, work to maintain your weight by combining a healthy diet with daily exercise. If you need to lose weight, ask your doctor about healthy ways to achieve your goal. Aim to lose weight slowly by increasing the amount of exercise you get and reducing the number of calories you eat.
- Avoid drug and substance abuse.
Signs and symptoms of colon cancer are:
- Persistent abdominal discomforts, such as cramps, gas or pain
- Unexplained weight loss
- Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool
- A feeling that your bowel doesn't empty completely
- A persistent change in your bowel habits, including diarrhea, constipation or a change in the consistency of your stool
- Weakness or feeling of fatigue.
If you are experiencing either of these signs and symptoms for more than 2 weeks, it is recommended that you visit your doctor for a check-up.
Faraja Cancer Support Trust offers sessions such as nutrition to advise our patients on what to eat and what not to eat. Also, there are Zumba classes which are not only fun but also a fantastic form of exercise. Therefore, join us to enjoy these free complementary services and let us support you and your loved ones on this journey.
1. Katsidzira L, Gangaidzo I, Thomson S, Rusakaniko S, Matenga J, Ramesar R. The shifting epidemiology of colorectal cancer in sub-Saharan Africa. Lancet Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2017; 2:377–383.
2. Mayo Clinic. Colon cancer. Available at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/colon-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20353669
3. Saidi H, Nyaim EO, Githaiga JW, et al. Colorectal cancer surgery trends in Kenya, 1993-2005. World J of Surg, 2008; 32:217-223