The cecum is a structure found at the start of the large intestine. The name comes from the Latin word for “blind,” referencing the fact that the base of the structure is a pouch which goes nowhere, akin to a blind turn in the intestinal tract. This first part of the large intestine is usually located on the right hand side of the body, in the lower right abdominal quadrant, although some people have variations on the typical anatomy and may have a different gastrointestinal arrangement.
This structure connects the ileum to the ascending colon, moving waste along so that they can be excreted. The ileocecal valve allows waste products to be dumped from the ileum into the cecum, but prevents the passage of waste from the large intestine to the small intestine. This one-way exit is designed to support the function of the digestive tract and to ensure that bacteria from the large intestine do not enter the small intestine. The small and large intestine have different functions, making it important to avoid sending waste products the wrong way.
The size of this structure varies in different people and across different species. Some species actually have two, making up for a lack of colon with a double cecum. In animals which eat plant products, the structure contains a wealth of bacteria to help break the plants down, while carnivores tend to have smaller ones, and sometimes the structure is almost wholly absent. As a general rule, the diameter is usually larger than that of the attached large intestine.
The appendix dangles from the bottom of the cecum, sort of like a protruding finger. In people who experience appendicitis, a rigid, hot sensation can be felt in the lower right abdomen, indicating the presence of inflammation. During surgery to remove the appendix, a doctor will also examine the cecum for signs of inflammation or perforation.
Like other parts of the intestinal tract, the cecum can become cancerous if cells start to divide out of control. Cancer in this body part is rare, and it can be treated with a variety of measures, depending on how far advanced it is. This structure can also be damaged by abdominal trauma, bowel obstructions, or accidents in surgery, leading to bruising or perforation, which can cause a patient to go into shock or experience a severe infection.