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Diverticulitis & Colon Cancer. Part 1

by on Mar.07, 2012, under Cancer

Q.I was diagnosed with diverticulitis two years ago, at age 24. I’ve heard this condition puts me at a higher risk of colon cancer. Is this true? How often should I be screened for colon troubles now, and with what kind of tests? Given my age, what is the likelihood of a recurrence of diverticulitis?

X.

A.Diverticulitis is an acute inflammation of diverticula, which are small pouches arising from the inner lining of the colon. Diverticula develop as a result of high pressures within the colon caused by the high-fat, low-fiber diet so common in the United States and other developed countries.

A. It’s uncommon for diverticula to develop before the age of 40. However, after that, the incidence is about equal to a person’s age. For example, 60 percent of people age 60 have diverticula. When someone has diverticula in the colon, doctors refer to it to as diverticulosis.

So, the question is: What is the significance of diverticulosis? Two major complications can occur.

The first complication is bleeding. This occurs when an artery located at the base of a diverticulum becomes eroded. About 10 to 30 percent of people with diverticulosis suffer from bleeding, and in up to five percent of patients it can be severe, requiring hospitalization and blood transfusions.

The second potentially serious complication of diverticulosis is inflammation, or diverticulitis. Affecting 10 to 20 percent of patients, diverticulitis occurs when stool particles collect in a diverticular pouch, causing a small perforation of the colon. Although the perforation is usually walled off quickly by the body’s defense system, abdominal pain, fever, nausea and vomiting can still result.

In most cases, diverticulitis improves after several days of taking antibiotics and refraining from taking food by mouth, which allows the bowel to rest. Severe cases can be complicated by uncontrolled perforation of the colon or abscess formation, in which a pocket of bacteria and pus arises outside the colon. Both situations require emergency surgery to remove part of the colon.

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