What is the function of the colon?

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What is the colon? The colon is a vital part of your personal plumbing system. The tubular organ works 24 hours a day to remove waste products from your body. As part of the digestive system , the large intestine works in conjunction with organs such as the stomach and small intestine to eliminate stool and maintain fluid and electrolyte balance.

Sebastian Kaulitzky / Getty Images

Can you live without a colon?

Although it is an amazing organ, you can live without the colon. People have part of their colon removed every day during surgery; A surgical resection of the intestine is one of the treatment options for colon cancer . However, the six feet of the colon, also called the colon, serve a purpose. Most of the nutrients you eat are absorbed in the small intestine long before "food" reaches the large intestine. The main function of the colon is to form one and a half liters of liquid (the food you eat mixed with digestive juices) in hard stools for elimination from the body.

The colon must reabsorb water and electrolytes to form stool. So when you become dehydrated, you can become constipated and your stools can become hard and difficult. The colon draws more fluid from the stool for your body to use.

Colon anatomy

The colon is not very creatively labeled; most labels on the colon match its anatomical position and stool flow. The colon is divided into six parts, which include the cecum, the ascending colon, the transverse colon, the descending colon, the sigmoid colon, and the rectum. The colon begins at the end of the small intestine, where it is called the cecum, and ends in the rectum. Colon cancer is commonly known as colon cancer, rectal cancer, or colorectal cancer.

The cecum is anatomically located in the lower right corner of the abdomen, approximately where the appendix inserts. The cecum is the widest part of the entire colon and is about 2 inches long, or one-third the length of the handle. 15 to 20 percent of all colon cancers occur in the cecum .

The ascending colon runs upward vertically from the cecum to the transverse colon. The junction of the cecum and the transverse colon is called the right colic curve or liver curve because of the proximity to your liver (hepatic system). Anatomically, the ascending colon is about 10 centimeters long and is located on the right side of the abdomen.

The transverse colon connects the ascending and descending colon along the abdomen. The transverse colon is adjacent to the stomach, liver, and gallbladder and is approximately 50 centimeters long.

The descending colon begins at the left colic flexure, also known as the splenic flexure because of its proximity to the spleen. This part of the colon is located on the left side of the abdomen and connects the transverse colon with the sigmoid colon. The descending colon is about 10 centimeters long.

The sigmoid colon is the last 50 centimeters of the colon that goes to the rectum and is generally S-shaped. About 20 to 25 percent of all colon cancers occur in the distal colon, including the descending colon and the sigmoid colon .

The rectum is the last part of the large intestine that leads to the anus. The digestive process is completely complete when the stool reaches the rectum, where it is expected to be expelled in the form of a bowel movement. About 25 to 30 percent of cancers occur in this 15-centimeter portion of the colon .

The contoured colon is longer than usual. In this relatively rare condition, in order for this longer tube to enter the abdominal cavity, the colon has additional twists and turns.

A quick look at the colon section

The colon is made up of four layers, each of which has a specific function. When colon cancer is diagnosed , the pathologist will determine which layer of the cancer it has reached (for example, the innermost or outermost layer) to help determine the stage of your cancer. Most colorectal cancer begins in the innermost layer called the mucous membrane and eventually spreads to the outermost layer, or serous membrane, of the colon if it is not treated. Starting with the innermost layer of the colon, the layers include:

  • Mucous membrane: divided into three, the surface of the mucosa called the epithelium is the site of most cancers of the colon and rectum. The mucous membrane provides lubrication that facilitates the passage of stool through the colon.
  • Submucosa: the next layer of the colon, rich in blood vessels and nerves. The submucosa is the layer of connective tissue that connects the mucous membrane with the next muscle layer.
  • Muscularis Propria: The third layer is made up of opposing layers of muscle fibers: one set that runs horizontally and another that runs around the colon. Once the cancer has penetrated this layer, it is more likely that it can metastasize to other parts of the body.
  • Serosa: the outermost layer of the colon. When cancer spreads through the serous membrane, it leaves the colon and metastasizes.

Maintain happiness in the colon

Your colon is a simple organ with simple needs. Keep it hydrated, clean, and have routine exams to check the inner lining for polyps or growths that may precede cancer. A diet high in fat, sugar, and excessive consumption of red meat (more than 18 ounces per week) can increase your risk of colon cancer. Smoking, obesity , and heavy alcohol use can also negatively affect the health of your colon.

Help your colon work its best:

  • A high-fiber diet, rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, appears to prevent distal colon cancer.
  • Drink lots of fresh water every day.
  • Limit consumption of red meat and semi-finished meat products (hot dogs)
  • Exercise daily
  • Stop using tobacco products, including cigarettes and snuff.
  • Limit your alcohol intake
  • Talk to your doctor about taking a daily multivitamin if your diet is poor.
  • Learn more about colon health screenings.

It is never too late to start exploring your colon and taking a proactive stance to keep it healthy. Colon Cancer Early Detection Saves Lives – Learning more about your colon and keeping it healthy can save yours.

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