As well-wishes continue to pour in for Talk Radio 702's breakfast host, Xolani Gwala, who on Friday revealed that he has been diagnosed with advanced colon cancer -- here's what you need to know about this type of cancer:
1. What causes colon cancer?
According to the Mayo Clinic, it's not clear what causes the disease in most cases. What is clear is that the cancer occurs when healthy cells in the colon develop errors in their DNA. These cells then become cancerous and continue to divide, even when new cells aren't needed -- forming a tumour.
As time continues, the cancer cells can grow to invade and destroy the normal tissue nearby, and can travel to other parts of the body.
2. The cancer can silently develop over many years
As the cells with damaged DNA grow and divide, they lead to growths within the colon called polyps. Many polyps are precancerous tumours that grow slowly over the years and do not spread, according to the Cancer Association of South Africa (Cansa). In most cases, this slow process can take at least eight to ten years to develop from the early cells to a full-blown cancer.
3. It is common in South Africa
According to the National Cancer Registry, colon cancer is the second-most common type diagnosed amongst South African men -- after prostate cancer, and the fourth-most common cancer in women.
Further, more than 100,000 South Africans are diagnosed with cancer every year. This is in a country ranked 50th on the World Cancer Research Fund's list of countries with the highest cancer prevalence rates.
4. Signs and Symptoms
According to Mayo Clinic, signs and symptoms of colon cancer can include:
- A change in your bowel habits, including diarrhoea or constipation or a change in the consistency of your stool, that last longer than four weeks
- Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool
- Abdominal discomfort that is persistent, such as cramps, gas or pain
- A feeling that your bowel doesn't completely empty
- Weakness or fatigue
- Weight loss you cannot explain
These symptoms, however, may not be experienced in the early stages of the disease. The clinic also explains that they will vary, depending on the cancer's size and location in one's large intestine. And like many cancers, early detection is key.
Through surgery, the cancerous cells can be removed, without requiring any further treatment. According to Cansa, there are different types of surgery, depending on where the cancer is, its type and size and whether it has spread or not.
Although not often used, radiation therapy can also be another form of treatment. It kills cancer cells by using high-energy rays pointed at the affected area. The aim is to prevent cancer cells from continuing to grow and divide.
However, for more advanced cancers chemotherapy is necessary, shortly following surgery. Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs to destroy cancer cells throughout the body. Side effects such as nausea, hair loss, diarrhoea, sore eyes usually result from chemotherapy.
6. Risk factors
- Older age. The majority of people diagnosed with the disease are older than 50. New research, however, shows that people younger than 50 are dying from the disease in some countries.
- A personal history with colon cancer. You have a greater risk of the cancer in future if you have had it, or polyps.
- Family history with the disease. The likelihood to develop the disease increases if there are family members who have had it before.
7. Lifestyle factors
Although cancer can happen to anyone, regardless of one's lifestyle, the risk for 30 percent of cancers can be reduced by changing one's diet and lifestyle, cautions Cansa.
Lack of regular exercise, being overweight, smoking, drinking alcohol and not drinking enough water can all lifestyle factors that contribute to increase the risk of colon cancer.