The colon (together with the rectum) are part of the large intestine (bowel). The colon is a muscular tube that is about five feet long. It absorbs water and nutrients from food passing through. The rectum, the lower six inches of the digestive tract, serves as a holding place for stool, which then passes out of the body through the anus. The colon is divided into four sections: the ascending colon, transverse colon, descending colon, and sigmoid colon. Most colorectal cancers arise in the sigmoid colon — the portion just above the rectum. They usually start in the innermost layer and can grow through some or all of the several tissue layers that make up the colon and rectum. Cancer can, however, develop in any portion of the colon. The extent to which a cancer penetrates the various tissue layers of the colon determines the stage of the disease.
What is Colon Cancer?
Colon cancer and rectal cancers are the second most prevalent cancer after lung cancer among men, and the third most prevalent cancer after breast cancer and lung cancer in women. Most colorectal cancers grow slowly over a period of several years, often beginning as small benign growths called polyps. Removing these polyps early, before they become malignant, is an effective means of preventing colorectal cancer. If the epithelia cells (the cells in the mucous membrane of the colon) turn cancerous and begin to grow and replicate in an abnormal and uncontrolled way, the body cannot organize these cells for normal function and the cells form a mass that is called a tumor. Malignant tumors in the colon can eventually penetrate through the colon and spread to other parts of the body, crowding and destroying normal cells.
Everyone is potentially at risk of developing colon cancer at some point in their lifetime. Although colon cancer occurs mostly in mature individuals, it can also occur in younger men and women as well. Some of the risk factors include a personal history of colonic or rectal polyps, a personal or family history of colon or rectal cancer, and certain conditions, such as chronic ulcerative colitis (CUC) and Crohn’s disease. Diet also appears to be a factor in the development of colon cancer.
Warning Symptoms of Colon Cancer
There are symptoms or warning symptoms that should raise the suspicion that one has colon cancer.
- Obstruction. As the colon cancer grows, particularly if it is located in the transverse colon or in the descending and sigmoid colons, it may cause obstruction, leading to a build-up of pressure. This can result in pain and in swelling of the abdomen. In more extreme cases of obstruction, there may also be nausea and vomiting.
- Bleeding. As tumors expand, they can be traumatized by the fecal stream, causing them to bleed. The blood is often hidden in the stool and not readily visible. In some cases bleeding may be visible on the stool or there is rectal bleeding.
- Anemia. In some cases, as the tumor bleeds, it causes iron deficiency anemia to occur.
- Pain. Once the tumor penetrates the wall of the colon and begins to invade adjacent tissue, it can cause pain, together with additional symptoms. For example, if the cancer spreads to the bladder, it may cause urinary problems.
- Wasting Syndrome. In some cases, colon cancer can cause a loss of appetite, weight, and strength.
While the above warning signs can occur even in individuals without colon cancer, if someone does exhibit these symptoms, appropriate diagnostic procedures should be recommended in order to rule out colon cancer.
Colon cancer generally grows slowly over a period of years. Once the cancer breaks through the colon, it can enter blood or the lymphatic system grow and spread very rapidly. As the cancer grows, it often spreads into the liver and the lungs. It can also spread to the bones, especially in the pelvis. Depending on the location of the tumor, it can also spread to the clavicle.
The American Cancer Society recommends that screening for colon cancer in individuals without any symptoms commence at age 50. Screening should consist of a yearly digital rectal examination (DRE) and a fecal occult blood test (FOBT). Sigmoidoscopies, preferably flexible endoscopic sigmoidoscopies, should occur every three to five years. For anyone with a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) who has had colon cancer under the age of 55, screening should start by age 40.
Facts – Colon Cancer
- Is the second leading cause of death from cancer in the U.S.
- Over 50% of all new cases of colon cancer involve metastasis by the time of diagnosis
- Approximately 102,900 Americans will be diagnosed with colon cancer this year.
- Approximately 48,100 Americans will die from colon cancer this year.
- 80 to 90 million Americans are at risk of developing colon cancer
- If colon cancer is detected and treated early, the survival rate is high.
The American Cancer Society and the American College of Gastroenterology recommend that screening for colon cancer in individuals without any symptoms commence at age 50. The recommended method for screening is a colonoscopy (repeated every ten years if no polyps or tumors are found and the person has no risk factors). The recommended alternative method for screening is a yearly digital rectal examination (DRE) and a fecal occult blood test (FOBT). Sigmoidoscopies, preferably flexible endoscopic sigmoidoscopies, should occur every three to five years. For anyone with a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) who has had colon cancer under the age of 55, screening is recommended starting at age 40.
Medical Malpractice and Colon Cancer
The incidence of medical malpractice related to the diagnosis of colon cancer is alarming. Colon cancer is the second most common type of cancer in the U.S., resulting in an expected 48,100 deaths this year. Nonetheless, too many men and women have their colon cancer diagnosis delayed when the doctors in whose hands such men and women entrust their well-being fail to perform appropriate screening tests, fail to properly interpret test results, and fail to take necessary steps when symptoms of colon cancer are reported. When this happens, the physician has been negligent. And the tragic result of this negligence is too often the loss of treatment options and/or the loss of chance of survival.
The Law Firm of Cohen & Jaffe is devoted to explaining how medical malpractice arises in the context of a failure by a physician to timely diagnosing colon cancer; to describing what is involved in pursuing a medical malpractice claim; and to offering a convenient and free attorney consultation to those who believe they have been the victim of medical malpractice.
Why You May Have a Claim?
According to a report by the Institute of Medicine, medical errors are responsible for at least 44,000 deaths each year in the United States and possibly as many as 98,000 each year. The following are among the more common forms of negligence or medical malpractice by physicians in diagnosing and/or treating colon cancer:
- Failing to perform a routine digital rectal examination (DRE);
- Failing to identify a cancerous mass in the rectum or lower colon during a routine digital rectal examination;
- Failing to perform a screening sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy;
- Failure to order appropriate diagnostic examinations (such as a colonoscopy) to test for colon cancer when a patient exhibits symptoms that can be caused by colon cancer;
- Misinterpreting the biopsy results;
- Failing to react to biopsy findings;
- Failing to recommend appropriate treatment options; and
- Failing to follow-up with the patient.
The above are only examples and are by no means intended to be an exhaustive list of acts of malpractice. If you suspect that your doctor failed to detect and/or properly treat your colon cancer, you should contact a competent attorney immediately.
Contact Our Long Island Medical Malpractice Attorneys
Contact the Long Island medical malpractice attorneys at the Law Firm of Cohen & Jaffe if you or a family member have been diagnosed with colon cancer and a doctor or other medical professional:
- discounted complaints of rectal bleeding as just hemorrhoids,
- failed to screen for colon cancer by recommending
- a colonoscopy or
- testing for blood in the stool and a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy, or
- failed to follow up after an abnormal test result
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For a free legal consultation with a lawyer serving Long Island, call 516-358-6900