Colorectal cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer related morbidities in the United States, with about 60,000 deaths annually. This type of cancer refers to colon and rectal cancer, and is the second most common type of cancer in the United States with over 100,000 diagnoses annually in the U.S.
Colon cancer develops in the colon, which is the lower part of the digestive system. The last several inches of the colon is called the rectum. The rectum is a storage area which leads to the anus.
Causes of Colorectal Cancer
Most cases of colorectal cancer develop as precancerous polyps. Polyps are small abnormal growths in the large intestine that can be either benign or malignant. Due to the risk of their becoming cancerous, polyps are most often removed soon after detection.
If you have a family history of colon cancer or if you are diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease, you may be at an increased risk for developing colon polyps.
Other risk factors for colorectal cancer include:
- Increased age
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Poor diet that is high in fat
- Excessive alcohol use
- Tobacco use
Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer
Many people who are diagnosed with colon cancer do not experience any symptoms. Preventative screening measures are often able to diagnose and treat colorectal cancer before the disease advances and symptoms become present.
If symptoms do occur from colorectal cancer, they may include:
- Changes in bowel habits
- Blood in your stool
- Abdominal pain
- Unexplained weight loss
While these symptoms could develop due to colon cancer, they are also common symptoms of other digestive diseases. Since colon cancer most often begins as polyps it is generally diagnosed through regular screening before symptoms begin to occur.
Diagnosis and Prevention of Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer is often detected during standard preventative screening measures. The leading form of detection for colon and rectal cancer is acolonoscopy, though other forms of testing may include blood tests, or x-rays.
During a colonoscopy, a flexible scope is directed through the anus to collect images of the colon and rectum. Using colonoscopy, your colorectal surgeon or gastroenterologist can obtain biopsies, remove polyps and assess other abnormalities in the large intestine. The colonoscopy is the most comprehensive form of screening for colorectal cancer as the other forms of testing are not able to remove polyps or collect biopsies.
Treatment for Colorectal Cancer
For a lot of patients, precancerous polyps are removed before other forms of treatment are necessary. If a polyp or biopsy is found to be malignant then more medical treatment may be required. Depending on the location, severity and type of cancer that is found, treatment may include:
- Surgical removal of the caner
- Chemotherapy to target and destroy cancer cells
- Radiation therapy to destroy cancerous tissues
The majority of colorectal cancer cases are diagnosed early, which makes the possibility of recovery very high.
The best way to prevent colorectal cancer is to undergo regular screenings. Talk to your Los Angeles Colon and Rectal specialist to find out if you are due for a colonoscopy.