We were doing research on colon cancer and came across this fascinating fact – there are colon cancer survivors out there who have had their entire colon removed and are living normal, healthy lives today!
We went “What??” and stared disbelievingly at the screen for 17-and-a-half seconds. How is it possible to function without a colon? Isn’t that where ‘poop’ is made? How does the body eliminate waste (faeces) without a colon??
Our curious minds wouldn’t let it go and we decided to dig a little deeper. Here’s what we found:
One last look…
The colon, otherwise known as the large intestine, is the final segment of the digestive tract. Digested food from the small intestine arrives here and it’s where the body makes a last attempt to absorb any remaining nutrients. Anything that cannot be used is pushed out of the body.
It keeps you hydrated
The colon absorbs water from food and passes it back to the body (that’s why stool is generally firm and not soft). This process helps to keep you hydrated; so if your colon is removed, you will need to drink more water to avoid dehydration.
It’s really long
The colon is surprisingly long, measuring at around 6 feet (1.8m). But that’s nothing compared to the small intestine which is about 22 feet (6.7m) in length! As such, it can take from 12 – 48 hours for food to pass through the entire digestive tract.
You could eat upside down
The intestines have muscles that are responsible for moving food through the digestive tract, rather than gravity. So yes, you can eat in any position you want although it wouldn’t make for good table manners and you might make a mess trying to drink from a cup upside down.
Tiny creatures call it home
There are millions and millions of friendly bacteria residing in your colon. These microorganisms help absorb various nutrients and vitamins and unfortunately are also responsible for the build-up of gas in your colon that causes flatulence.
There’s always stuff in it
You don’t really ‘empty’ your bowels even after many rounds of diarrhoea. Fecal matter is continuously being formed with bacteria. In addition, stool consists largely of liquid, undigested food, dietary fibre, fat, minerals and protein.
You don’t have to ‘poop’ every day
Some may visit the toilet on a daily basis while others may go every 2 or 3 days. According to research, it’s all normal and healthy. Frequency of bowel movements varies from person to person and even among different cultures.
It can be removed if necessary
A person diagnosed with colon cancer can have a section or the whole colon removed as part of the treatment. If the entire colon is removed (proctocolectomy), the patient will need to wear a special bag outside their body to collect faeces which pass through a surgical opening in the abdominal wall. Alternatively, a pouch can be created in the small intestine which is attached to the anus (IPAA surgery), enabling the patient to have normal bowel movements instead of using an external bag.
So while you CAN live a normal life minus your colon, it’s not all fun and games! Having to use a colostomy bag can be inconvenient and terribly embarrassing. And for those with an internal pouch, bowel movements can be frequent, sometimes 4 – 6 times a day including at night with soft and watery faeces.
It’s really best to just avoid having to remove your colon in the first place. This means we’ll have to be vigilant about colonic health as colon cancer is one of the most common cancers for both men and women in Malaysia. If you notice blood in your stool or persistent stomach pains and cramps, go get a check-up pronto.
And of course, you need to protect yourself financially should the worse ever occur. Find out how you can obtain comprehensive cancer protection that offers coverage at any cancer stage. Get protected and stand up to cancer with confidence!
Feature image: www.metabolicenergy.net