Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery MBChB (UCT).
Fellow of South African College of Surgeons
Diploma in Obstetrics & Gynaecology
Bowel Cancer Operations
WHAT IS Bowel Cancer?
Colon cancer is a severe form of cancer that infiltrates the colon and rectal lining. It’s crucial to detect cancer in its early stages before the disease spreads to lymph nodes and nearby tissue. Colon cancer can develop from small benign growths called colon polyps. Although a majority of these polyps are non-cancerous, some of them can develop into colon cancer.
It is vital to diagnose the disease in its early stages, preferably in stage one, before it becomes more aggressive and attacks other organs.
There exist four stages of colon cancer that include:
- Stage one: At this stage, cancer penetrates the colon and rectal mucosa or lining only. It hasn‘t yet extended to the colon or rectal walls.
- Stage two: At this point, cancer has spread beyond the lining to the colon or rectal walls. It’s still in its early stages as it hasn’t yet reached nearby tissue or lymph nodes.
- Stage three: At this stage, cancer penetrates the lymph nodes.
- Stage four: Cancer has reached its advanced stage. The disease has infiltrated other organs that include the lungs or liver.
What are some of the causes of colon cancer?
DNA damage, ageing, diabetes, obesity and genetics are factors that contribute to colon cancer. If left untreated, polyps can also become cancerous over time.
What are the signs of colon cancer?
In its initial stages, colon cancer presents with no symptoms. Symptoms only occur during the advanced stage of the disease.
These symptoms include:
- Persistent weakness
- Unexplained weight loss
- Variations in your stool
Before Dr Mitchell diagnoses colon cancer, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, she will ask a series of questions that concerns your medical history, family history of cancer or gut disease, as well as previous surgeries.
The doctor conducts diagnostic tests that include:
- Physical exam: Dr Mitchell applies pressure to the abdomen to check for lumps.
- Blood tests: There is a specific blood test to diagnose colorectal cancer. However, complete blood or liver tests can also confirm or rule out other illnesses.
- Colonoscopy: The surgeon inserts a tube into the anus to view the inside of the colon and rectum. During this exam, she checks for polyps or any other structural abnormalities.
- Imaging tests (x-rays and CT scans): These tests capture images of the inside of the colon.
Dr Mitchell performs a colonoscopy to treat polyps, colon cancer and other gut diseases. Before the colonoscopy, she will provide bowel preparation instructions. You must stick to a clear soluble diet for 24 hours before the colonoscopy.
Dr Mitchell inserts a thin tube into the anus until it reaches the colon. She pumps a harmless gas into the colon to get a better view of the surgical site. If there are any polyps, she removes them and extracts tissue for biopsy. The doctor sends the tissue samples to the laboratory for further analysis.
If cancer has advanced, she performs a bowel cancer surgery. The colon surgeon removes cancer in the colon lining. She also removes nearby healthy colon tissue in the walls for biopsy.
You should wait two hours after the surgery for the anaesthetic to wear off. Before the colonoscopy, you must ask a close friend or family member to drive you home. After the procedure, you must not sign relevant documents, drive or engage in strenuous activity.
Once the removal of polyps or the local excision is complete, it will take some time before you resume your regular diet. Dr Mitchell will advise on post-operative care strategies and foods to eat. She will recommend a healthy diet of fluids, electrolytes, saltine crackers, mash, applesauce, soups and canned fruit, as well as soft puddings or gelatin.
Please note: The information provided above and on this website is for education and interest purposes only. It is not intended to replace a personal one-on-one consultation, nor is it meant to substitute professional medical advice, diagnose or treat any condition. A consultation with a specialist and qualified health care provider such as Dr Mitchell is essential for correct diagnosis and management, as well as to answer any queries that you may have. Never disregard or delay in seeking professional medical advice due to something you have read on this website. Dr Mitchell takes no responsibility for any errors or omissions present on this website and is not liable for any consequences that may occur from misinterpretation of the information on this website. In the event of uncertainty or an emergency, please visit your nearest casualty.