Description of Colorectal Cancer

November 12, 2012

Description of Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is the name given for any type of cancer whether it is a growth, lump or tumour found in the colon or the rectum and is also known as bowel cancer. According to the NHS it is currently the most common cancer across the world. The world health organisation disagrees claiming it is the second most common after lung cancer. Either way the numbers of diagnoses of colorectal cancer is increasing and a recent study has found that cases of people younger than 50 with the disease are becoming more common. The colon and rectum are both parts of the digestive system. The colon reabsorbs water and nutrients as they are passed along it towards the rectum, which is where faeces are stored and excreted from the body. There are a number of signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer including a more frequent need to go to the toilet, diarrhoea, constipation, blood streaked stools, bloating, vomiting, fatigue, weight loss or a lump in the tummy or back passage felt by a doctor. These symptoms can occur as the result of many other conditions and health problems so in order to get a proper diagnosis a doctor should perform a physical and do tests. If you experience any of these symptoms, especially if they are persistent and prolonged, make an appointment to see your doctor.

Doctors and medical experts are still unsure as to the direct causes of colorectal cancer. Some factors that may increase the risk of developing the condition include:

  • Age – colorectal is more common in older people

  • A diet high in animal protein

  • A diet high in saturated fats

  • A diet low in fibre

  • A high calorie diet

  • Excessive or high levels of alcohol consumption

  • Women who have previously had breast, ovary or uterus cancer

  • A family history involving colorectal cancer

  • Being overweight or obese

  • Smoking

  • Presence of polyps in the colon or rectum – polyps can turn cancerous

  • Having Crohn’s disease or irritable bowel syndrome

Screening can test for polyps before they become cancerous, which is the most common cause of colorectal cancer. When found before or in the early stages of cancer it is much easier to treat and the chances of a full cure are much more likely. There are a number of tests that can be performed to check for bowel cancer. Faecal occult blood tests can be used to check stool for blood and can be done from home. Blood results are not 100% accurate as some cancers don’t bleed and there are other conditions that can cause blood in the faeces. A stool DNA test is more accurate and detects precancerous polyps cells that have been shed into the stool. Again this test can be done from home and the sample sent of to a lab.

A flexible sigmoidoscopy or a colonoscopy involves the use of a long, slender, flexible tube, which can be used to examine the rectum and the colon. If polyps are found it is possible to remove them or to take a sample there and then. Other possible methods of detecting polyps are through a CT colonoscopy, ultrasounds scanning or an MRI.

Once a colorectal cancer has been diagnosed, the doctor will determine what stage it is in on order to recommend appropriate treatment. Depending on the size, location and stage of the cancer as well as the overall health of the patient treatment will be surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Surgery is the most common treatment and tumours and lymph nodes are removed. If it caught early this should be the only treatment necessary. In some cases chemotherapy and radiotherapy may follow in order to prevent recurrence.

Prevention is possible in the form if exercise, good nutrition and a healthy body weight. Regular screening can help catch colorectal cancer early and are very advisable if you have had it previously, if it run in the family, if you are over the age of 50 or if you have Crohn’s disease.

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