A kind of cancer that develops in the colon or rectum is called colorectal cancer, commonly referred to as colon cancer or rectal cancer. The large intestine is comprised of the colon and the rectum, which is the final few inches of the large intestine.
On the inner surface of the colon or rectum, a tiny development known as a polyp often marks the beginning of colorectal cancer. Some polyps may eventually turn cancerous. Although while not all polyps grow into cancer, eliminating polyps can help stop cancer from occurring.
Changes in bowel habits, such as diarrhoea or constipation, blood in the stool, stomach discomfort, weakness or exhaustion, unexplained weight loss, and the sensation that the intestine does not entirely empty after a bowel movement are all potential symptoms of colorectal cancer.
Age (most incidences of colorectal cancer occur in adults over 50), a family history of the illness, some inherited genetic abnormalities, a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, a diet high in red and processed meats, smoking, and strong alcohol consumption are risk factors for the disease.
Colorectal cancer can be found early, when it is more treatable, using screening techniques including colonoscopy, faecal occult blood testing, and stool DNA testing. Surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, or a combination of these treatments are all potential course of action for colorectal cancer. The type of treatment is determined by the cancer’s stage, where it is located, and the patient’s general condition.
Who is affected by colorectal cancer?
Both men and women can get colorectal cancer, which is more prevalent in persons over 50. The third most prevalent cancer in the United States to be diagnosed in both men and women, according to the American Cancer Society, is colorectal cancer.
Black Americans have the highest incidence and death rates of colorectal cancer in the country when it comes to ethnicity. A personal or family history of colorectal cancer, certain genetic mutations, inflammatory bowel illness, a diet high in red and processed meats, smoking, and strong alcohol consumption are additional risk factors for developing colorectal cancer.
It’s crucial to remember that while certain risk factors, like age and family history, cannot be altered, other lifestyle choices, like diet and exercise, may be made to help lower the likelihood of developing colorectal cancer. Moreover, frequent screening is advised for people at average risk beginning at age 45 or earlier for those with specific risk factors since early discovery through screening tests is essential to properly treating colorectal cancer.
What are the symptoms of colorectal cancer?
Depending on the location and stage of the tumour, the signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer might change. The early stages of colorectal cancer can go unnoticed by patients. Nonetheless, there are several typical signs of colorectal cancer that may be present, such as:
- alterations in bowel habits, such as constipation or diarrhoea
- The colour of the blood in the faeces, which might be brilliant red or extremely dark
- cramping or discomfort in the abdomen
- Unaccounted-for weight loss
- weakness or weariness
- a sensation that the bowels haven’t fully evacuated following a bowel movement
- nausea or diarrhoea
- bodily bleeding
- a lack of iron anaemia
It is crucial to remember that these symptoms are not always a sign of colorectal cancer because they can also be brought on by other illnesses. Nonetheless, it’s crucial to consult your doctor if you encounter any of these symptoms so that you can identify the underlying issue and get the right therapy. Moreover, routine colorectal cancer screening can aid in identifying the condition even before symptoms appear, when therapy is most successful.
What should I know about screening?
Because early detection of the disease makes it easier to treat, colorectal cancer screening is crucial. There are several colorectal cancer screening procedures available, including:
- Colonoscopy: Using a flexible, illuminated tube with a camera on the end, a healthcare professional examines the whole colon and rectum during a colonoscopy. In the event that polyps are discovered during the colonoscopy, they can be taken out and tested to see if they are malignant.
- FOBT (faecal occult blood test): This test looks for blood in the stool, which might be a sign of colorectal cancer. A little sample of faeces is collected for the test at home, and it is then sent to a lab for examination.
- Stool DNA test: This test looks for specific DNA alterations that may be present in polyps or colorectal cancer. The test is carried out at home, and a stool sample is taken and sent to a lab for examination.
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy: Using a flexible, illuminated tube with a camera on the end, a healthcare professional examines the rectum and lower portion of the colon. This test is normally advised every five years, but a colonoscopy is advised every ten. This is because it does not check the whole colon.
The person’s age, family history, and other risk factors will determine the recommended colorectal cancer screening schedule. In general, screening should start at age 45 and last until age 75 for people with average risk. Those who have a family history of colorectal cancer or other risk factors might need to start screening sooner or have more frequent screenings. It is crucial to discuss your unique risk factors and the suggested screening regimen with your healthcare professional.
How is colorectal cancer treated?
The stage and location of the disease, the patient’s general health, and the patient’s preferences all affect how colorectal cancer is treated. Surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, or a combination of these methods may all be used as treatment options.
- Surgery: The main course of therapy for colorectal cancer is often surgery. The aim of surgery is to remove the tumour and any lymph nodes that are involved. The surgeon could occasionally additionally need to cut out a section of the colon or rectum. A temporary or permanent colostomy, which includes redirecting the faeces to a bag outside the body, may be required for some individuals after surgery.
- High-energy radiation is used in radiation treatment to eliminate cancer cells. It is frequently used in conjunction with surgery, chemotherapy, or both to assist reduce the tumour before surgery or to eradicate any cancer cells that may still be present after surgery.
- Chemotherapy: Drugs are used in chemotherapy to destroy cancer cells. It may be administered before to, following, or in conjunction with radiation therapy. Chemotherapy medications can be administered intravenously or orally.
- Targeted therapy is a more recent form of cancer treatment that specifically targets certain proteins or genes that support the growth and division of cancer cells. Chemotherapy is frequently used with it.
In addition to these therapies, patients may also get supportive care to assist manage symptoms and enhance quality of life, such as dietary counselling or pain management.
Working with a group of medical professionals, such as a radiation oncologist, a surgeon, and a medical oncologist, is crucial to creating a treatment strategy that is customised to the patient’s unique requirements and preferences. To address any long-term therapy adverse effects and to check for any symptoms of recurrence, regular follow-up care is essential.