The large intestine, or colon, plays a very important part during digestion. The absorption of minerals and water essential to the body and the elimination of solid wastes within are its primary roles. A person with a functional and healthy colon moves his/her bowels two to three times per day on average. A normal digestive process normally takes 12 to 24 hours.
When you see blood in your stools upon defecation and frequently experience an unexplained pain in your stomach, immediately go to the doctor and be screened. These symptoms can be indicative of early warning signs of colorectal cancer.
Sometimes known as bowel cancer, colorectal cancer is statistically known to the third most common cancer suffered in the United States. The disease placed second among deaths related to cancer annually. Over 100,00 colon cancer cases and more than 40,000 rectal cancers were confirmed to be diagnosed in the year 2007 alone.
What The Common Symptoms Are
Like many other types of cancers, colorectal cancer patients will remain asymptomatic up to the time the cancer has already begun to spread. Practically the entire colon will already become cancerous and neighboring organs like the rectum and appendix will already be affected. The formation of cancer lesions will dictate the onset or location of symptoms.
A change in regular bowel movement is one of the warning signs of colorectal cancer and cancer in general. These changes may start as either diarrhea or constipation. Rectal bleeding, bloody stools, bowel incontinence with no relief, mucus-filled stools, and alteration of both stool color and consistency. These symptoms are quite similar to other disorders like hemorrhoids and inflammatory bowel syndrome. But the doctor will be able to differentiate those diseases from colorectal cancer.
Initial manifestations of cancer metastasis (spread) include liver enlargement, upper right quadrant pain, and shortness of breath or difficulty in breathing. Since colorectal cancer is asymptomatic during its early stages, everyone exhibiting even the slightest form of symptoms are advised to immediately undergo screening. This is also considering the fact that some sufferers experience the symptoms of the disease very late.
Factors That Cause Colorectal Cancer
A lot of factors can make you a high risk and potential candidate for colorectal cancer. One risk factor to take into consideration is age. People over the age of 50 possess a huge risk of developing colorectal cancer. This predisposition can also be further triggered by previous history of cancer, obesity, diet high in fat and red meat, and genetics. Benign polyps and other growths in the colon may occasionally turn into malignant ones and thus precipitate colon cancer development.
Other precipitating factors that can make someone develop colorectal cancer are diabetes, sedentary lifestyle, cigarette smoking, extended period of colon inflammation, and previous history of suffering from Crohn’s Disease (regional enteritis) and/or ulcerative colitis. When someone exhibits the presence of human papilloma virus upon the exam, then he/she is also at risk.
How It Can Be Diagnosed
Colorectal cancer normally takes a long time to develop. You might not be able to experience symptoms now, but it’s possible that you will be 15 to 20 years from now. Most of the screening tests will involve a complete physical assessment and medical history taking. The initial procedure usually done is the Digital Rectal Exam (DRE) where the presence of large tumors will possibly be detected. Another examination, the Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) will confirm if your stools have “hidden” blood inside.
An endoscopic procedure called the Sigmoidoscopy will also be performed. During this, a lighted probe will be inserted inside the rectum. Searching for abnormal growths and polyp formation is the main objective of this test. Another similar test called the Colonoscopy will be performed if a tiny part of the tissue needs to be excised for biospy. The removed tissue will be sent to the pathology lab for further specimen analysis.
Ultrasound can also be performed. An instrument called a transducer (somewhat shaped like a microphone) emits sound waves of high frequency and will be moved above your abdomen on a circular motion. A picture of your internal organ being examined will shown on a monitor - helping determine the presence of any abnormal growths.
When it comes to screening for cancers, these three imaging tests are usually being turned to the most. The Computed Tomography (CT) Scan shows cross-sectional images of your body while giving a keen attention to detail. The Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), on the other hand, emits strong magnetic and radio waves to produce exam results in very little time. Best of all, the Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scan will provide the doctor with a three-dimensional view of the target organs using a special camera. The radioactive sugar included during PET Scan will help diagnose different parts of your body if radioactivity is happening or not.
The Treatments Available
Various colorectal cancer treatment options are available to different patients on a case to case basis. The stage of the cancer is one factor to take into consideration. Most of the time, patients opt for surgery since it is a hands on mode of cancer cells or affected organ excision. A small or big part of the organ may be taken away since the extent of the cancer may differ from person to person. Postoperatively, a colostomy bag will most likely be needed to store wastes coming from within the body.
Surgery will be a lot more complex if the rectum is also affected. More procedures like the polypectomy, local excision, local full thickness resection, and electrofulgeration may be involved depending on the cancer’s full extent. The good news is that none of these surgeries require the need to opening up the abdomen.
Here is a brief description of each surgery:
Polypectomy - cutting out the cancer growing at the rectum along the base.
Local Excision - Surrounding healthy tissue from the inner layer of the rectum will be removed with the exterior growths.
Local Full-thickness Resection - Surrounding normal tissue are removed with persistent growths by cutting through layers of the rectum.
Electrofulgeration - Cancerous tissue are burned by “electrocution”.
High-energy radiation is the main component found in Radiation Therapy that makes it eradicate cancer cells. This procedure is usually done prior to putting any patient under the knife. Radiation therapy helps make the cancerous mass to significantly decrease in size. Surgery will then be responsible for removing any cancer cells that were not attacked by radiation. Another purpose of the procedure is to alleviate or lessen the severe onset of symptoms including bleeding, intestinal obstruction, and pain. Commonly-experienced side effects of this therapy are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, and skin irritation. These adversities eventually go away after some time.
Chemotherapy is one of the most traditional treatment modalities for cancer. This process involves the administration of oncology drugs orally or intravenously (IV). Of the two, the latter is used more frequently since that mode of administration helps equally distribute the medication into all parts of the body since it passes through the blood. Chemotherapy is used during colorectal cancer since it has been found to dramatically increase the sufferers’ survival rate. It has also been known to prolong one’s life by as much as 5 years when the cancer is detected and treated early. However, the survival rate decreases once the disease has spread to nearby organs - particularly the lymph nodes. The survival rate will go down by as little as below 10% when major organs like the liver and lungs become cancerous as well. As known by many, adverse reactions caused by chemotherapeutic drugs are hair loss (most evident) and excessive vomiting.
Prevention is the cure. This statement is true among all cancers. You, as early as possible, must be aware of any cancer risk factors you may or may not posses. For instance, it is important for you to know if cancer is a disease that runs in your blood. Awareness of that fact will alert you to immediately undergo screening to detect the presence of abnormal growths and polyps along the colorectal area. They will then be excised as easily and early as possible - preventing the possibility of malignancy. Other preventive measures should include a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and an on-the-go lifestyle. That means exercising moderately for at least an hour everyday.
In Chemoprevention, the usage of both organic and manufactured cancer-fighting chemicals are being studied by various scientists. The risks involved of taking such medications are all being thoroughly assessed to determine which are the most appropriate ones to use. One discovery of Chemoprevention is that taking multivitamins (folic acid, calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D) everyday helps lower your colorectal cancer risk. In addition, regularly taking NSAIDs (Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen also help lower colorectal cancer risk. But taking NSAIDs can also put the patient at risk for bleeding resulting from gastric irritation. That is why NSAIDs should not be taken without your doctor’s prescription.
Imaging And Laboratory Exams
Imaging and laboratory exams are also on the process of revolutionizing the way of diagnosing colorectal cancer early. Virtual therapy, for one, can very accurately diagnose early stage colorectal cancer. Immunotherapy, on the other hand, makes a sufferer’s immune system stronger help combat the disease properly.
It is fortunate to note that the number of deaths from colorectal cancer has gone down in the last 15 years. Treatment for colorectal cancer has also become more advanced in the last decade, providing people with more options to choose from. Because of these developments, there exist about 1 million colorectal cancer survivors in the United States today.
Over the last 15 years, deaths from colorectal cancer has significantly decreased compared to years before. This is because unlike before, options for treatment have a broader spectrum mainly due to the latest and most innovative advancements in technology. The results have been nothing but positive since an estimated 1 million people survive from colorectal cancer in the United States annually.
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