Colorectal cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the colon or rectum.
The colon is the large intestine while the rectum is the end of the large intestine. The rectum store stool before it is eliminated from the body.
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. It is also the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States, after lung cancer.
How does Colorectal cancer develop?
Most colorectal cancers develop from precancerous polyps. Polyps are growths that form on the lining of the colon or rectum. However, not all polyps become cancer, but some do. The risk of developing colorectal cancer increases with age.
Other risk factors for colorectal cancer include:
- Family history of colorectal cancer
- Personal history of colorectal cancer or polyps
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- A diet high in red meat and processed meats
What are the symptoms of Colorectal cancer?
The most common symptom of colorectal cancer is a change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool. Other symptoms of colorectal cancer can include:
- Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool
- Abdominal pain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
- Nausea and vomiting
How is colorectal cancer diagnosed?
The first step in diagnosing colorectal cancer is a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy is a procedure in which a doctor inserts a thin, flexible tube with a camera into the colon to look for polyps or cancer. Additional tests that may be used to diagnose colorectal cancer include:
- Fecal occult blood test (FOBT): This test detects small amounts of blood in the stool.
- Sigmoidoscopy: This procedure is similar to a colonoscopy, but the tube is inserted only into the lower part of the colon.
- CT scan: This scan can be used to look for tumors in the colon or rectum.
- MRI scan: This scan can also be used to look for tumors in the colon or rectum.
How is Colorectal cancer treated?
The treatment for colorectal cancer depends on the stage of the cancer at the time of diagnosis. An early detection; when it is still confined to the colon or rectum, has a high cure rate. However, if it has spread to other parts of the body, at point of diagnosis, the cure rate is lower.
The main treatment options for colorectal cancer include:
- Surgery: Surgery is the most common treatment for colorectal cancer. The type of surgery that is performed depends on the location of the tumor.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is a treatment that uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be used before surgery to shrink the tumor or after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells.
- Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy is a treatment that uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy can be used before surgery to shrink the tumor or after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells.
What is the outlook for people with Colorectal cancer?
This depends on the stage of the cancer at the time of diagnosis. An early detection increases the cure rate while opposite is the case when it is detected at a later stage.
Can Colorectal cancer be prevented?
The best way to prevent colorectal cancer is to get screened regularly. Screening tests can detect polyps before they become cancerous. If polyps are removed, they cannot develop into cancer.
The American Cancer Society recommends that people at average risk start getting screened for colorectal cancer at age 45. People at higher risk, such as those with a family history of colorectal cancer, may need to start getting screened earlier.
Several things can be done to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer, including:
- Getting screened for colorectal cancer: Screening tests can help to detect colorectal cancer early when it is most treatable.
- Eating a healthy diet: A diet that is low in red meat and processed meats and high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.
- Exercising regularly: Exercise can help to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.
- Abstinence from smoking: Smoking increases the risk of colorectal cancer.
As serious as Colorectal cancer is, it is also one that can be cured if it is detected early. There are many effective screening tests available, and if you are at risk for colorectal cancer, it is important to talk to your doctor about getting screened. With early detection and treatment, colorectal cancer can be a survivable disease.