About the Colon
The colon, also known as the large bowel or large intestine, is the tube-like part of your digestive tract that stores stool and pushes it out from your body. It is five to six feet long. Food you have eaten arrives at the colon after passing through the stomach and small intestine. A healthy colon has a smooth, protective lining. Colon tissue can undergo changes, however, and growths or other problems can occur that may require surgery.
Conditions Affecting the Colon
There are a number conditions that require surgical intervention in the treatment of colon disease. The most common reasons for surgery are large polyps, tumors and diverticulitis.
A benign polyp is a non-cancerous growth, ranging in size from a pea to a golf ball. The larger a polyp is, the greater the chance of developing cancer. Early removal of polyps may prevent them from progressing to cancer.
A cancerous tumor is made up of abnormal cells that are growing out of control. Cancers are usually the size of a mushroom or larger, and they can grow into the lining of the colon and spread to other parts of the body. The earlier cancers are removed, the greater the chance of preventing cancer spread. Colon cancer usually spreads first to nearby lymph nodes, and then to the liver, lungs, or other organs, establishing new cancers. This spread is called metastasis.
Without enough fiber and water in your digestive system, stool becomes harder causing the muscles of the colon to squeeze more to move the harder stools through. That extra pressure can cause the lining of the colon to bulge out into pouches called diverticula. They may result in recurrent infection, bleeding or tears. Removal of the segment of colon containing the diverticula will help to prevent these complications.
Diverticulitis occurs when the diverticula become infected or inflamed. The cause of these infections is unknown, but it is possible that they occur when small particles such as seeds or undigested food lodge in the diverticula. Infection can lead to complications such as swelling or rupture of the diverticula. Symptoms often include pain, fever, chills, cramping, diarrhea, or constipation.
Most colon surgeries remove the affected piece of colon (resection) and stitch or staple the two new ends together (anastomosis). This operation is often preformed through an incision running vertically in the middle of the abdomen. If you have colon cancer, surgery removes the cancer as well as the nearby lymph nodes. These lymph nodes are evaluated in the laboratory for signs of cancer spread.
Some colon surgeries may be performed with a laparoscopic technique. In this type of surgery, smaller incisions are made. A camera is inserted through one of the small incisions and is used to see the colon and other structures. This method is associated with quicker recovery, less pain, and less scarring.