Tests for early detection of colon cancer

What is the colon?

The colon, also called the large intestine or bowel, is the final 5 to 7 feet of the intestinal tract. It starts at the right lower part of the abdomen and, defying the laws of gravity, continues upward on the right side of the abdomen, close to the liver under the ribs (this section is known as the ascending colon). It makes a left turn and crosses to the left portion of the abdomen (this 2-to-1/2-foot portion is known as the transverse colon). The next portion heads down the left side of the abdomen to the pelvis (called the descending colon). The final section, which is S-shaped (the sigmoid colon), and the final 8 or 10 inches located in the pelvis behind the urinary bladder, are known as the rectum, with the final 2 inches being referred to as the anal region. The colon joins the small intestines to the rectum. The colon and rectum form the lower end of the digestive tract.

What is the small intestine? 

The small intestine, or bowel, is part of the digestive tract and consists of three parts. At the lower end of the stomach it is called the duodenum. The jejunum is the portion between the duodenum and the ilium. The ilium joins the large intestine (or colon) in the lower right side of the abdomen, just above the appendix. The small intestine is longer than the large intestine about 20 feet in length but is narrower in width.

What kind of tumors develop in the colon? 

There are two kinds, primarily benign growths such as adenomas or polyps, and malignant growths, which are cancer.

What tests should I have regularly to assure that any cancers of the colon or rectum are discovered early? 

The following three tests are valuable aids in detecting colon and rectal cancer early in people without symptoms:

1. A digital rectal examination every year after age 40.

2. The stool blood slide test (stool guaiac test), which can be done at home and returned to the doctor's office, hospital, or clinic for examination. This should be done every year after age 50.

3. The proctosigmoidoscopy, known as the "procto," should be performed every 3 to 5 years after the age of 50, following two annual exams with negative results. Many doctors feel these tests should be done up to the age of 75.

Colorectal Cancer Early Detection

What kind of doctor should I see if I have symptoms of gastrointestinal cancer? 

The specialists who deal in this area include gastroenterologists (who treat diseases of the GI tract from mouth to anus, including the stomach, liver, pancreas, and intestines), endocrinologists (who treat diseases of the organs which secrete hormones in the bloodstream, such as the pancreas), nephrologists (who treat diseases of kidneys), proctologists (who treat colon and rectal conditions), and urologists (surgeons who treat the urinary system).

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