Colorectal or colon and rectal cancer, is a cancer that occurs in the colon or rectum. It affects men and women of all ethnic groups, and is most often found in people age 50 years or older. It is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer, and the second leading cause of cancer death in men and women combined in the United States, but it doesn’t have to be. Colorectal cancer screening saves lives. Screening can help detect precancerous polyps—abnormal growths in the colon or rectum—that can be removed before they turn into cancer. Screening also helps find colorectal cancer at an early stage, when treatment works best.
Signs and symptoms include:
• A persistent change in your bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation or a change in the consistency of your stool
• Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool
• Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain
• A feeling that your bowel doesn't empty completely
• Weakness or fatigue
• Unexplained weight loss
Many people do not experience symptoms in the early stages of the disease. When symptoms appear, they vary, depending on the cancer's size and location. Therefore, getting screened is very important. Talk to your doctor about the various screening options and together decide on which are appropriate for you.
• Older age. Colorectal cancer can be diagnosed at any age, but a majority of people are older than 50.
• African-American race. African-Americans have a greater risk than people of other races.
• A personal history of colorectal cancer or polyps. If you've already had colon or rectal cancer or precancerous colon polyps (adenomas), you have a greater risk of developing colorectal cancer in the future.
• Inflammatory intestinal conditions. Chronic inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, can increase your risk of colorectal cancer.
• Family history of colon cancer. You're more likely to develop colorectal cancer if you have a first degree relative who has had the disease. If more than one family member has colon cancer or rectal cancer, your risk is even greater.
• Low-fiber, high-fat diet. Colon cancer and rectal cancer may be associated with a typical Western diet, which is low in fiber and high in fat and calories.
• Diabetes. People with diabetes or insulin resistance have an increased risk.
• Obesity and a sedentary lifestyle. People who are obese have an increased risk of colon cancer and an increased risk of dying of colon cancer when compared with active people considered normal weight.
• Smoking. People who smoke may have an increased risk of colon cancer.
• Alcohol. Heavy use of alcohol may increase your risk of colon cancer.
• Radiation therapy for cancer. Radiation therapy directed at the abdomen to treat previous cancers may increase the risk of colon cancer.
Lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of colon cancer
• Low Fat, High Fiber diet: Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains
• Drink alcohol in moderation
• Stop smoking
• Exercise three or more times per week
• Maintain a healthy weight
When to see a doctor:
If you notice any symptoms listed above or new or persistent symptoms that worry you, make an appointment with your doctor. Do not be embarrassed, it’s important to address any concerns, and do not wait. Early detection can be life-saving. Guidelines generally recommend that colon cancer screenings begin around 50. Your doctor may recommend earlier or more frequent screenings if you have other risk factors, such as a family history.
Treatment for colon and rectal cancer depends on the size, location, and how far the cancer has spread. Surgery is the most common treatment and is often curative. Most of the surgeries performed today are minimally invasive such as robotic or laparoscopic. They result in faster recovery with smaller incisions, less pain, and less time in the hospital and faster return to work and life. A team of doctors will typically put together a customized treatment plan that may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, rehabilitation, follow-up care after treatment, all while taking into account cure, quality-of-life, and treatment goals.