What is Colorectal Cancer?
Colorectal cancer occurs in the colon or rectum, which are a part of the large intestine. Caused by the growth of malignant cells in the colon or rectum, colorectal cancer is believed to form from non-cancerous growths, called polyps, on the walls of the colon or rectum. As time passes, polyps may begin to grow abnormally and become cancerous.
The American Cancer Society and the American Gastroenterological Association state the following facts:
Risk Factors Certain lifestyle factors may contribute to the increase in risk of developing colorectal cancer such as:
Common Symptoms Colorectal cancer may arise without any symptoms. Screening tests are therefore strongly recommended (such as a colonoscopy and a test for blood in the stool) to detect the cancer at its earliest stage, when the cancer is more curable.
It is advised that a doctor should be seen immediately if one of the following warning signs occurs:
Screening and Diagnosis Early detection is essential to successful treatment and recovery; therefore, routine screening is strongly suggested. A physical examination and medical testing are required to find the cause of symptoms. Colorectal cancer screening involves a few steps. A doctor will review personal medical history, family history and potential symptoms.
Following the review, one or more of the following medical tests will be given:
Stages of Colorectal Cancer If a diagnosis is made, additional examinations may be performed to determine its magnitude. This process is called staging. Knowing how far the cancer has progressed is vital when deciding what regimen of treatment might be most appropriate for the patient.
As colorectal cancer progresses from Stage 0 to Stage IV, tumors grow through the lining of the rectum or colon and spread to lymph nodes and other organs:
Common Treatment Options The choice of treatment for colorectal cancer depends on the stage of the disease. Doctors will determine how large the tumor has grown, how deeply it has penetrated the layers of the colon or rectum, and whether it has spread to other organs (most commonly the liver), lymph nodes, or other parts of the body. The goal of treatment is to preserve healthy tissue while killing tumors at their original point, as well as any cancer cells that have spread throughout the body. The following are examples of several treatment options:
Surgery The most common type of treatment for colorectal cancer is surgery. During this procedure, doctors often use a colonoscopy to remove small tumors and cancerous polyps in the colon or upper rectum. For tumors that are larger in size, surgical oncologists remove cancerous cells and some of the nearby healthy tissue through an opening in the abdomen. Adjacent lymph nodes also may be removed.
Chemotherapy Chemotherapy treatment uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by destroying the cells or by stopping the cells from dividing. Whether the chemotherapy is given as the primary treatment or as an adjuvant (additional) treatment to surgery depends on the type and stage of cancer. Chemotherapy drugs can be taken orally or by injection. The patient's doctor will prescribe a specific drug protocol that will suit the type and stage of his/her particular cancer. Discussing treatment protocols with the treatment team is advisable in order to be aware of any possible side effects.
Radiation When colorectal cancer has attached to an internal organ or the lining of the abdomen and the surgeon cannot be certain that all the cancer has been removed, radiation therapy is normally used. Radiation therapy is usually performed to treat rectal cancer in order to prevent the cancer from coming back in the pelvis where the tumor started.
Radiation therapy is a non-surgical method of treatment of cancer and other diseases, using beams of high-energy waves called x-rays or gamma rays. Radiation cripples or destroys tumor cells by incapacitating their genetic material, making it impossible for these cells to continue to grow. There are two types of radiation therapy:
The way the radiation therapy is performed depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.