Colorectal Cancer: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatments
Colorectal cancer starts in the colon or rectum in one's digestive system. Depending on the start location, it can be called colon or rectal cancer. Since both types share common features, these two types are often grouped.
The colon and rectum make up parts of the large intestine, constituting the digestive system, also known as the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Most of the large intestine comprises the colon. Depending on the direction of food travel, it is named an ascending, transverse, descending, or sigmoid colon.
After absorption of the essential nutrients, the waste material goes into a structure known as the rectum. It is a muscular organ that stores the waste until it is passed through the anus.
Categories of Colorectal Cancer
Most colorectal cancers start as a growth in the inner lining of either the colon or rectum, known as polyps. The different kinds of polyps are as follows.
- Adenomatous polyps (adenomas).
- Hyperplastic polyps and inflammatory polyps.
- Sessile serrated polyps (SSP) and traditional serrated adenomas (TSA).
Colorectal cancers that are most common are Adenocarcinomas. This cancer starts in the cells that make the mucus in the colon and rectum. When the doctor talks of colorectal cancer, it is almost always an adenocarcinoma. Adenocarcinoma-specific subtypes, such as signet ring and mucinous, have a more serious prognosis than the other subtypes.
Some of the other tumors that may also occur in the colon and rectum are as follows.
- Carcinoid tumors.
- Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs).
Colorectal cancer risk factors
Cancer is due to specific mutations in one's gene, inherited in the case of colorectal polyps. These are known as inherited mutations. Some of the more general causes of colorectal cancer are as follows.
- Having a sedentary lifestyle.
- BMI more than 25.
- Being male is associated with an increased risk.
- Older than 60 years.
- If one had breast cancer before.
- Consuming fatty food with significantly less fiber content.
- Having inflammatory bowel disease or Crohn's disease.
- Familial adenomatous polyposis is an inherited condition.
Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer
The most prominent symptoms are as follows:
- A change in how one passes stool, such as constipation or diarrhea, lasting more than a few days.
- Bright red blood passed through the rectum.
- Stool with blood making it dark brown or black.
- Abdominal pain.
- Fatigue and feeling tired.
- Sudden weight loss.
How is colorectal cancer diagnosed?
Some of the prevalent diagnostic tools used to detect colorectal cancer are as follows.
- Blood in stool test: fecal occult blood test (FOBT) or fecal immunochemical test (FIT).
- CBC (Complete Blood Count).
- Liver Enzymes.
- Tumor markers.
- Diagnostic colonoscopy.
- CT scan.
- PET scan.
- Endorectal MRI.
- Chest X-Ray (to know if the tumor has spread to the lungs).
What are the complications associated with Colorectal Cancer?
Some of the complications of the colon that can be associated with colon cancer include the following.
- Abscess formation.
- Acute appendicitis.
- Ischemic colitis.
- Colorectal cancer can spread to distant organs in the body, which makes it highly life-threatening.
- This cancer causes specific lesions in the defecation organs, which can block stool removal.
- There is a high chance that the tumors may return even after treatment.
- It is highly fatal if left untreated at the right time.
How to treat Colorectal Cancer?
The different treatment methods used to cure colorectal cancer are as follows.
- Colorectal Cancer Surgery.
- Targeted therapy.
These techniques are used according to the current stage at which the patient is.
Stage 0 colon/rectal cancer:
Stage I colon/rectal cancer:
tage II colon/rectal cancer:
Stage III colon/rectal cancer:
Stage IV colon cancer:
Polyp removal (polypectomy) cuts out the growth of polyps in the colon and rectum.
Surgery to remove the tumorous parts in the colon.
Colorectal cancer surgery is to remove the tumors. In some instances, doctors may recommend chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
Treatment includes colorectal cancer surgery to remove the tumor and chemotherapy to prevent additional tumor formation. In the case of rectal cancer, radiation therapy is used along with chemotherapy either before or after the surgery.
Surgery is generally not possible at this stage. But, if the extent of the tumor's metastasis is not vast, surgery can be recommended with the doctor's decision.
What can be done to prevent Colorectal Cancer?
There is no particular way to prevent the occurrence of colorectal cancer. But, one can make certain lifestyle changes to reduce the risk.
- Avoid gaining weight and maintain a healthy weight.
- Increase daily, regular exercise levels.
- Eat more fresh foods and reduce the intake of red meat and processed foods.
- Consume less alcohol.
- Quit smoking.
- Screen for polyps regularly, especially if there is a family history.
How do people live with Colorectal Cancer?
India has a lower occurrence of colorectal cancer compared to western countries. It appears to be the 7th leading type of cancer in India. According to Globocon, 2018, the number of new cases is 277,605, among which deaths are 19,548. The total number of patients living with this disease is 53,700.
The mean age at which one may be diagnosed with this cancer is 40 to 45 years. If there is a family history of polyps in the colon or rectum, one may need to monitor their health regularly through periodic colorectal cancer screening. If one plans a pregnancy, there is genetic screening to determine if one may pass the genes to their baby.
Colorectal cancer will not severely threaten a person's health if treated at the right stage. A group of specialists, such as gastroenterologists, surgical oncologists, colorectal surgeons, radiation oncologists, and medical oncologists, diagnose and treat cases of colorectal cancer.
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