Colorectal cancer or colon cancer also known as Rectal cancer or Bowl Cancer is the cancer that affects the digestive system or the colon present between the stomach and the anus. This cancer can affect either the small bowel where the food is digested or the large bowel – the colon and the rectum where the remains of the food are converted into solid waste and expelled from the body. Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death and it is equally prevalent among both men and women. Colorectal cancer usually develops in the cells lining the inside of the colon or rectum, and it begins in the form of a polyp. There is no specific cause of colorectal cancer but certain factors such as genetics, general health and diet increases the risk of developing the disease.
Causes of Colorectal Cancer
The exact cause of colorectal cancer is not yet understood, but there are certain factors that increase the risk of developing colorectal cancer.
Family history - A person who has a family history of polyps, colon cancer, breast cancer and ovarian cancer are at higher risk of getting this disease.
Diet - A diet rich in fats, protein, red meat and processed meat enhances the risk of developing colorectal cancer.
Inactivity - People with a sedentary lifestyle and lack of exercise are at greater risk of developing colon cancer.
Age - People over the age of 50 years are more susceptible to colorectal cancer.
Lifestyle - People who smoke and drink regularly have 4 times the average risk of developing colon cancer.
Signs and Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer symptoms are varied and in many cases the patients don’t experience any symptoms until the disease has reached an advanced stage. Some of the recognizable symptoms to look out for are as follows:
- Presence of blood in stool
- Bleeding from the rectum
- Sudden unexplained change in bowel habit which lasts longer than 6 weeks
- Loose stool, diarrhoea or constipation
- Severe stomach pain
- Presence of lump or mass in the abdomen
- Unexplained weight loss
- Feeling of tiredness and weakness
- Abdominal distension
- Symptoms of anemia
Stages of Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer treatment guidelines divide the disease into 4 main stages depending on the extent of the disease.
Stage 1 - This is the least advanced stage of the cancer which affects only the innermost layers of the colon or rectum wall. There is 90% chance of cure if the cancer is diagnosed at this stage.
Stage 2 - At this stage the cancerous tumour exhibits greater growth through the wall of the colon or rectum into the adjoining body parts.
Stage 3 - This stage involves the cancer spreading to local lymph nodes and it is known as metastasis.
Stage 4 - It is the most advanced stage of the cancer where it has spread to distant organs like the liver and lungs.
Diagnosis of Colorectal Cancer
The first step in the treatment for colorectal cancer is its diagnosis. The method of diagnosis involves some tests such as digital rectal test, testing or presence of blood in stool or faecal occult blood test and x-rays of the colon. The three definitive tests for colorectal cancer are colonoscopy, virtual Colonoscopy and Flexible Sigmoidoscopy.
Colonoscopy - In the case of colonoscopy the doctor inserts a colonoscope (a thin six-foot tube with a light at the end) into the colon. The doctor blows air into the colon to find the lumps and tumours that may be present in the folds and wrinkles of the colon. Doctors may do a biopsy or remove polyps during the colonoscopy.
Virtual Colonoscopy - This test is also known as computerized tomographic colonography, and it helps to produce 3-D pictures of the colon and rectum using special x-ray equipment. A computer arranges these pictures into detailed images that show the polyps and abnormalities in the colon.
Flexible Sigmoidoscopy - In the case of Flex Sig, the doctor can check the bottom third of the colon. People undergoing Flex Sig are asked to take an enema to clear the bottom of the colon before the procedure is carried out.
Treatment for Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer treatment is determined depending on the stage of the disease. Surgery can effectively remove small tumours, and chemotherapy can be used to kill the remaining cancerous cells. But in advanced stages of colorectal cancer, chemotherapy and radiation are prescribed to control the spread of the disease.
Surgery - Removing the cancerous tumour in an operation is the most common treatment for all stages of colon cancer. Only surgery is enough to cure colon cancer if the disease is between stage 1 and stage 3. People diagnosed with stage 3 cancer may have to undergo radiation therapy or chemotherapy along with the surgery.
Chemotherapy - In this cancer treatment drugs are used to stop the growth and spread of cancer cells – either by killing them or preventing them from dividing. Chemotherapy drugs are either taken through the mouth or injected into a vein or muscle so that it enters the bloodstream and fight the cancer cells present throughout the body. In many cases, chemotherapy drugs are injected directly into an organ or the spinal column to target the cancer cells in those specific areas.
Radiation Therapy – In this procedure high-energy x-rays or other types of radiations are used to kill the cancer cells and stop them from multiplying. There are 2 types of radiation therapies – external radiation therapy and internal radiation therapy. In case of external radiation therapy the radiation is directed towards the cancer from outside the body and in case of internal radiation therapy radioactive substances are placed directly into or near the cancer.
Prevention of Colorectal Cancer
Periodic colon cancer screening in people aged above 50 years is the best way to reduce the risk of developing colon cancer. Screening also helps in early detection and treatment of the disease. Some other measures to reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer include eating a healthy low fat diet rich in fruits and vegetables, daily physical activity and giving up smoking and alcohol consumption.
So, now that you have comprehensive knowledge about the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of colorectal cancer; spread awareness about it and follow a healthy lifestyle to reduce the risk of this disease.
All the treatments – medicines, injections and vaccines are for general information of the reader. Please consult a doctor and get a formal prescription before taking any medicines, supplements and injections.
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