WHAT IS COLORECTAL CANCER?
Colorectal cancer is a cancerous tumor that occurs in the colon and the rectum. The colon and rectum form the large bowel. The colon is the upper 5 to 6 feet. The rectum is the last 6-8 inches.
WHAT CAUSES COLORECTAL CANCER?
When abnormal cells grow in the colon, a cancerous tumor may form. These tumors grow slowly, but they may get big and block the bowel.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
Colon and rectal cancer can occur without clear symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they may include:
· A change in bowel habits for 2 or more weeks or constipation or diarrhea for 1 or more weeks.
· Frequent gas pains, cramps, bloating or feelings of fullness in the abdomen
· Red or dark blood in or on the stool or rectal bleeding
· Fatigue and/or iron deficiency anemia in men and older women
· Pencil thin stools
· A feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
· Weight loss for no known reason
WHAT ARE THE RISK FACTORS?
Risk factors for colon and rectal cancer include:
· Polyps (non-cancerous growths that can become cancerous over time). Most colon cancers develop from polyps.
· Family history of colon or rectal cancers, chronic colitis, or colon polyps. Unless it is treated, an inherited condition called Familial Polyposis puts a person at very high risk.
· Age. Colon and rectal cancers occur most often in people over age 50.
· Having long term inflammation of the colon (diseases called ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease)
· Eating a diet high in fat and low in fiber
· Physical inactivity
HOW IS IT DIAGNOSED?
Early detection is the most important factor. Colon and rectal cancers maybe completely curable if found early. They can be detected by the following screening tests:
· A stool blood test (fecal occult blood test) checks for hidden blood in your stool from polyps, cancer, or other causes. Your Health Care Provider will give you a test kit to take home. You will be instructed to place a small amount of your stool from three bowel movements in a row on the test cards. You are to return the cards to the Provider’s office or a lab, where the samples are tested for any hidden blood.
A flexible sigmoidoscopy allows the Health Care Provider to examine the lining of your rectum and the lower part of your colon. This is done by inserting a thin, lighted tube into your rectum and lower colon. The Provider can take samples of polyps or cancers if necessary.A colonoscopy allows the Health Care Provider to examine your rectum and entire colon. Like the sigmoidoscopy, a thin, lighted tube is inserted into your rectum and entire colon. You will be sedated for this procedure.
· A double contrast barium enema allows the provider to see an x-ray image of the rectum and entire colon. You will be given an enema with a liquid called barium that flows from a tube into the colon, followed by an air enema. The barium and the air create an outline around your colon, allowing the doctor to look for abnormalities.
HOW IS COLORECTAL CANCER TREATED?
Treatment is based on the size and location of the tumor and the stage of the disease. Age and general health are also factors in treatment. Treatment may include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
WHAT CAN I DO TO PREVENT IT?
Early detection is the most important factor. Colon and rectal cancers may be completely curable if found early.
· You should have one of the following screening tests:
– A stool blood test every year starting at age 50
– A sigmoidoscopy every 3 to 5 years starting at age 50 or at the time intervals
recommended by your Health Care Provider.
· Have colon polyps removed.
· Follow a high fiber, low fat diet. Eat whole grain breads and cereals. Have at least 5 servings of vegetables and fruits a day.