March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month
By: Chad Zawacki, PA-C
What is colorectal cancer?
Cancer of the large intestine aka the “colon.” The colon is the last part of the digestive tract nearest the rectum. The majority of colorectal cancers begin as benign polyps most commonly being adenomatous polyps which are simply a collection of cells. Over time these clumps of cells can turn into cancerous types of cells.
Symptoms of colorectal cancer?
The majority of benign polyps do not produce any symptoms and are discovered during routine screening on colonoscopy. More alarming symptoms that could indicate colorectal cancer include: changes in bowel habits such as diarrhea, constipation, or consistency of your stool especially if lasting longer than four weeks. Rectal bleeding, chronic abdominal pain, feeling as if you have not emptied your bowels after having a bowel movement, and unexplained weight loss are other signs/symptoms that could indicated colorectal cancer.
How to diagnose colorectal cancer?
The only way to confirm is by colonoscopy where a small flexible tube is inserted into the rectum and colon to exam the intestine where biopsies are taken to confirm the cancerous cells present.
Treatment of colorectal cancer?
Treatment is dependent upon the stage of the cancer. A wide array of treatment options exist nowadays including chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. It is best to talk to your oncologist regarding what treatment option is best for you and your condition.
Causes/risks of colorectal cancer?
The number one risk is genetics. If you have a family history that is positive for colorectal cancer then you are by far more prone to the disease process. Also those over the age of 50, African Americans, diet low in fruits/vegetables, diet high in processed foods/fatty foods, smoking and sedentary life style increase your risk greatly.
Screening, Screening, Screening!
Those who are at an average risk of colorectal cancer should start screening at age 50. This means having a colonoscopy performed every 10 years. If colon cancer runs in your family especially if it is a first degree relative then your first colonoscopy should start at age 40 or 10 years earlier than when that relative was diagnosed and repeated every 5 years instead of 10.