Colorectal cancer includes cancers of the colon, rectum, appendix and anus. When abnormal cell growth occurs, a tumor develops. If the cells of a tumor acquire the ability to invade and thus spread into the intestinal wall and to other sites, a malignant or cancerous tumor develops.
Most colorectal cancers develop first as colorectal polyps, which are growths inside the colon or rectum that may later become cancerous.
The following symptoms may indicate colorectal cancer. A doctor should be consults for the appropriate diagnostic tests.
• A change in bowel habits
• Diarrhea or constipation
• Feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
• Blood in the stool
• Abdominal discomfort (gas, bloating, cramps)
• Weight loss of no known reasons
• Constant tiredness
• Unexplained anemia
Diagnosing colorectal cancer
When there are symptoms present, diagnostic tests should be performed. In the absence ofsymptoms, regular screening should be done. Approved screening and diagnostic tools include:
• Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT)
• Flexible Sigmoidoscopy
• Double Contrast Barium Enema (DCBE)
• Additional tests currently being used and researched: DNA-based Stool Test and Virtual Colonoscopy
Treating colorectal cancer
Treatment for colorectal cancer is more effective when the ca n cer is found early. Colorectal cancer treatment may include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, or any combination of these. The most common chemotherapy used against colorectal cancer is called 5 Flourouracil (5FU) combined with Leucovorin. Flourouricil has been used since the 1950’s. Recent research, however, has made advances in the treatment of colorectal cancer, and many new drugs are being tested in clinical trials. Several additional chemotherapeutic drugs such as Irinotecan (Camptosar, CPT-11) Eloxatin (oxaliplatin) and Xeloda are now available. Additionally, clinical trials are investigating novel therapies such as vaccines (immunotherapy), gene therapy, and starving tumors of their blood supply (anti-angiogenisis). A great deal more research is needed.