The colon is the end of our digestive system and forms what is called the large intestine. It has the shape of a long tube, where water and nutrients contained in the food we ingest are absorbed and where feces are formed.

The large intestine is also the site of a type of cancer, called colorectal cancer, which arises from pre-existing intestinal polyps (small extroversions). The tumor is formed when cells in the inner wall of the large intestine proliferate uncontrollably, giving rise to benign polyps, which can mutate into malignant formations.


The importance of colonoscopy

Screening tests, such as occult fecal blood screening and colonoscopy, allow early detection of intestinal polyps and their removal before they mutate into cancer, thus reducing patient mortality by 20%.

“Colonoscopy is one of the diagnostic methods with the greatest role in cancer prevention. In fact, colon cancer is the third most common cancer in men and the second most common in women. Colonoscopy under the screening program reduces the risk of developing this tumor by 90%. Humanitas is strongly committed to developing these prevention programs for colon cancer by offering sedation tests, tools with the latest technology and a multidisciplinary approach that allows a modern and rapid management of pathologies diagnosed during colonoscopies,” explains Professor Alessandro Repici, Head of Digestive Endoscopy at Humanitas.


Who is affected?

In men, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer after lung and prostate cancer; in women, it is the third most common cancer after breast cancer, which is the first.

This cancer can occur at any age, but it is more frequent in people over 50 years of age (90% of cases), and it is rather rare in young people.

According to a new American study (conducted by the American Cancer Society), which analyses incidence by year of birth, cases of colorectal cancer have increased in younger generations. An author of the study, comparing peers of different generations, says that the risk for colon cancer is twice as high for people born in 1990 as for those born in 1950. The risk even increases to four times in the case of rectal cancer, but the reasons are still unclear.

It should also be noted that young people are at greater risk of not having cancer diagnosed early, precisely because the possibility of this cancer being present in young people is often underestimated.

This form of cancer also recognizes family history: it is possible to inherit the risk of illness if the family of origin has pathologies such as family adenomatous polyposis and Crohn’s disease. It has also been shown that the risk of developing cancer is greater for people with first-degree relatives – parents, siblings and children – already affected by this neoplastic form.


What are the symptoms?

Colorectal cancer may be asymptomatic for a long time. The first signs of this disease are blood loss in the feces (polyps that tend to bleed) and constant alteration of intestinal activity, such as constipation.

In the more advanced stages, further symptoms occur such as:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Continuous evacuation stimulation
  • Rapid and unjustified weight loss
  • Anemia
  • Sense of exhaustion


What are the causes?

The causes of this cancer are not yet clear. It is certainly the result of the interaction between genetic and environmental factors (such as diet).

In addition to family predisposition and the presence of inflammatory bowel diseases, it has been shown that other risk factors may include:

  • A hypercaloric diet, high in animal fats and low in fiber
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Obesity
  • Low physical activity