Colon cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer found worldwide. It is the third most prevalent cancer among men and the fourth most prevalent cancer among women. There are roughly 42 new cases diagnosed per 1,000 people each year with 16 deaths per 1,000 recorded every year. The overall five-year survival rate of the disease is 64.9%.
Colon cancer affects the latter part of the digestive tract responsible for removing solid waste from the body. Over a long period of time, a series of mutations take place in the genes of cells of the colon that cause them to divide out of control. At first, they might form polyps of increasing size on the interior of the colon. At some point, the tissue begins to become invasive pushing away normal cells of the colon. It is at this point that the disease is recognized as cancer. In metastatic cancer, the tissue actually can migrate to other parts of the body and invade other tissues. This is one of the things that makes cancer so difficult to treat.
This process of mutation can take many decades. Colon cancer thus also often affects older adults. It also tends to affect those with certain pre-existing gene mutations inherited from parents that tend to make people predisposed to get the disease. Since cancer does take some time to manifest, cancer precursors can be identified early on, preventing cancer from developing. This is one of the reasons that regular colonoscopies are recommended for people who are over the age of 40. During these procedures, polyps can be identified and resected before they grow to potentially form an invasive cancerous mass.
When not caught early, colon cancer can be quite deadly. Surgical resection of the malignant tissue is first line treatment. However, due to the potential for metastasis, concomitant treatment with chemotherapy is often necessary. Chemotherapy uses toxic chemicals to kill cancer cells in the bloodstream throughout the body. It works on the premise that cancer cells that are dividing in an unregulated manner or more susceptible to being killed by these toxins than normal tissue. However, since normal tissue inevitably also is destroyed, side effects from chemotherapy can be quite significant. This is particularly true for blood cells. Concomitant Epogen and Neupogen are often given with chemotherapy to help promote the replacement of damaged blood cells to make the treatment more tolerable for patients.