Colon Cancer Patient Advocate, Navigator or Health Advocate
The concept of patient advocacy in its current form was developed in 1950’s as the treatment of cancer patients grew more and more technically complicated, as a means to make the voice of the patient more readily heard. In today’s world of constantly evolving medical techniques, treatments, and services, the average individual cannot be expected to be thoroughly acquainted with any and all this material. So it becomes the function of the colon cancer patient advocate to perform a variety of services to ease the burden of the patient, and their family, as they learn to deal with every aspect of the disease.
The primary concern of the colon cancer advocate to the support the cancer patient in all aspects of life with the disease, whether they be physical, emotional, or financial. An advocate can assist the patient in investigating available treatment options and educating the patient on the efficacy of each of them, be it pharmacological or surgical. By educating the patient, the advocate can be of great assistance in helping them make an informed decision about their course of action, and the possible side effects and outcomes. Support may also involve recommending counseling services for the patient, and their family members, to help them cope from day to day. Colon cancer patient advocates may also be of assistance in helping the patient, and their caregivers, deal with any physical debilitation resulting from the disease, and its treatment.
Another aspect of colon cancer patient advocacy is assistance in navigating the financial aspects of treating the disease. An advocate can act as a liaison between the patient and his or her insurance company, assuring that the patient receives any and all benefits to which they are entitled. When one is dealing with a serious disease, it is quite easy to lose track of other aspects of your life. An advocate can help to seek out sources of assistance which can ease the financial burden of the patient.
Education is also a major function of a cancer advocate. Both the patient, and their caregivers, are often in need of information about how the disease will affect their lives, both during its progression, and in its aftermath. Patients must be informed about how their condition will affect their mobility, the ability to care for themselves, and if they will be left with any permanent impairment to their lifestyle. Caregivers need to be instructed in mechanisms, or techniques they must use to cope with the patient’s daily care, such as injections, proper care of surgical dressings, etc.
The cancer patient, above everything else, needs to know that there is someone in their corner. Someone who will help them find their way through the confusing, and sometimes daunting, world of modern medicine. Someone who will have their best interests in mind as they face challenges presented every day in their struggle to find, secure, and finance the best treatment available.
What is Colon Cancer?
Colon cancer is a type of malignant changes that happen in the colon and may affect the rectum as well. When this happens it is referred to as colo-rectal carcinoma. Although young people can be affected, it is more commonly seen in the elderly.
The symptoms vary depending on the stage of the disease. If the cancer is localized, then the symptoms will be fewer than when the cancer has spread to the surrounding tissues and organs. Some of these symptoms are:
· A change in the bowel habits. This might include change in frequency, change in stool consistency with episodes of both diarrhea and constipation.
· Bleeding per rectum. This might be mild with the initial symptom being just a little blood on the tissue. Later it might be frank bleeding.
· If the lesion is higher up in the colon the stools might be dark and bloody because there has been enough time for the blood and stools to mix. This is called melena stools.
· Unexplained weight loss and progressive weakness also appear as the disease advances.
· Other non-specific symptoms include abdominal pains and cramps and a feeling to open bowels without passing anything.
These symptoms collectively suggest presence of colon cancer but individually they could be due to another problem altogether.
Causes and risk factors
Like many other cancers, the cause is not known. All that is understood is that there develops a problem in the DNA which leads to a proliferation of cells that don’t die naturally as they are programmed to. This leads to tumor development. There is however factors that appears to favor colon cancer development. Some of these are:
Diet is a major factor here. The following increase the risk of developing the cancer.
· Consumption of too much red meat for too long.
· Consumption of too much deep fried foods
· Processed foodstuffs.
Obesity apart from creating a whole range of other health problems it also increases chances of developing cancer of the colon. The bigger the weight is the higher the risk.
Leading a sedentary life also increases chances of getting the disease. Other risk factors are
· Advancing age.
· Alcohol abuse.
· Presence of any of the Inflammatory Bowel diseases (IDB).
· Genetics. In the U.S or example, the African Americans are more affected than other racial groups.
· Family history of the disease.
· Adult onset diabetes (also called Non-Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus) is another risk factor.
A diagnosis is reached after considering the clinical findings, the risk factors, family history and then laboratory and other tests. The investigations include:
· A complete blood picture also called a full hemogram.
· Liver function tests.
· A plain chest x-ray to rule out lung involvement.
· Biopsy of the affected part. For histological analysis.
· Blood analysis for colon cancer markers.
· Ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are also standard investigative tools in many centers.
These tests will help confirm the disease and determine its extent and hence help in applying the best possible treatment.
Treatment of colon cancer
Regardless of the stage, surgery is almost inevitable. One reason to do it is to remove the cancerous part and when the cancer is advanced it may be done to relieve symptoms of blockage.
Chemotherapy is done in an effort to destroy as many cancer cells as possible. Some of the drugs used for this are Leucovorin combined with Oxaliplatin and the other is Capecitabine combined with Oxaliplatin.
Radiation completes the common triad of cancer treatment. More often than not, all the three methods are combined.
Colon cancer statistics
According to the American Cancer Society, in 2015 about 93000 new cases will be diagnosed in the U.S. Almost 50000 people will die of this cancer. The risk factor ratio is about 1:20 with more men likely to be affected than women. Colon cancer is the third killer cancer in U.S.
Apart from genetic factors, lifestyle choices contribute to the cancer’s occurrence and so a change in lifestyle can go a long way in keeping this killer at bay.