According to the American Cancer Society, the third most common type of cancer found in the US is Colorectal Cancer. Their survey also states that it is the leading cause of cancer related deaths in the US.
Nearly all cases of colon cancer begin as benign (non-cancerous) polyps. However, if it is detected in the early stage, colorectal cancer is curable. As is the case with all cancers, if it reaches the metastasis stages, it is fatal.
Risk Factors Related to Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal Cancer develops in the lining of the colon or the rectum. There are certain factors that can put one at a higher risk of developing colon or colorectal cancer:Individuals over the age of 60 are at a higher risk of developing this particular form of cancer.A diet rich in red meats or highly processed meats can cause colon cancer.If one has cancer elsewhere in the body.If polyps, even benign polyps are found in the colon.If one has a family history of colorectal cancer.People suffering from Crohn’s Disease (inflammatory bowel disease) or ulcerative colitis also have the chance of developing colorectal cancer.A personal history of Breast Cancer is also a risk factor for colon cancer.Of course, alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking also play a role in developing this cancer.Some genetic syndromes can also become risk factors for colon cancer, the most common of these are: Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP) and Lynch syndrome (Hereditary Nonpolyposis Colorectal Cancer: HNPCC)Colon cancer has been associated with fat, fiber and red meat rich diets, but switching to a low fat and fiber diet does not reduce the risk significantly.
Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer
If diagnosed at an early stage, colorectal cancer can be cured. Therefore, if you notice any of these symptoms, get a medical check-up done immediately:Tenderness in the lower abdomen, and pain in the abdomen.Blood in the stoolChanges in bowel movements like, diarrhea or constipationNarrow stoolsUnexplained weight loss.The symptoms usually do not develop till a slightly later stage. If you fall in any of the high risk categories, it is advisable to go for regular physical exams and colonoscopies, though mostly a physical exam doesn’t reveal anything.
Treatment of Colorectal Cancer
If the cancer is detected in its early stages, that is, if the cancerous growth has not penetrated beyond the wall of the colon, the ideal course of action is surgery. Along with the tumor the surgeon removes a small part of the surrounding bowel and the lymph nodes adjoining it. He then rejoins the healthy bowel wall. At this stage, patients have a full recovery rate, and unless the cancer has metastasized, the prognosis is excellent.
In the case of rectal cancer, the entire rectum is removed permanently. The surgeon then performs a colostomy, wherein he makes a hole in the abdomen, and connects the colon with it. This part of the procedure requires rehabilitation since the solid waste excreted from the colon is collected out of the body in specially made bags.
If the cancer has metastasized the prognosis is not very good. Chemotherapy along with prescription medication are the recommended courses of action. Chemotherapy is a cyclic therapy that can go on for months, or weeks depending upon the progress of the cancer. Survival chances of the patient are high, but the treatment is emotionally exhausting and painful.
Colorectal cancer is manageable, even curable, but for those at high risk a healthy lifestyle and regular check ups are a must to avoid it.