Colorectal cancer is a term that is used to describe both colon cancer and rectal cancer. While there are differences between the two types of cancer (mostly in treatment options), the two cancers share many things in common. Both cancers begin in the digestive system, responsible for processing eaten food. The colon and the rectum make up approximately the last 6 inches of the digestive system, after the small and large intestines.
Colorectal cancer, then, begins in the colorectal tissue that makes up the walls of the colon and the rectum. The abnormal cell growths begin in the inner layer of tissue and can potentially grow into the surrounding layers of tissue. Depending on how far the cancer has spread, the cancer will grow. Most colorectal cancers begin as a polyp and develop relatively slowly compared to other cancers.
The overwhelming majority of colorectal cancers are classified as adenocarcinomas, or cancers that begin in the cells that line the colon and rectum. However, there are many other types of colorectal cancer, each of which are very rare.
Causes of Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer is caused by polyps, or tissue that is over grown anywhere in the lining of the colon. These polyps can grow due to many different reasons. Some of the causes can be controlled, such as one's diet, lifestyle and whether or not the patient smokes cigarettes. However, the patient does not have control over other symptoms, such as their age, race, personal and family medical history, and whether or not they suffer from diabetes or obesity.
Colorectal Cancer Prevention
The best prevention techniques of colorectal cancer, also known as colon cancer, have been debated for years. While most health care providers agree that a healthy diet and lifestyle are the best ways to prevent the disease, doctors have always disagreed about the affects of supplements, like calcium and aspirin. Many studies have been conducted through out the years to test if these and other supplements actually can prevent colon cancer at all. While most of the methods used to help prevent colorectal cancer pertain to dietary changes, there are alternative ways to aid prevention of the disease as well. Many colorectal cancer specialists recommend those at risk to sit for long periods of time. Sitting, or sedentary activities can make it easier for polyps to grow. It is not suggested that one should always avoid sitting, but studies have suggested that those who have sedentary jobs or who spend lots of time sitting, have a higher risk for colorectal cancer. These methods can help one achieve negative results from colorectal cancer screening. Colorectal cancer is most common in males, age forty to fifty years old. However, no one is immune to the disease and everyone should practice as many suggested methods of colorectal cancer prevention as possible.
Colorectal Cancer Symptoms
As with most cancers, symptoms are not produced until the cancer advances to later stages of the disease. Symptoms of colorectal cancer can range from a typical fever and excessive tiredness, to blood in the patient's stool, irregular bowel movements and other types of abdominal problems. Common symptoms of colon cancer include various changes in bowel movements, such as persistent constipation or diarrhea, the feeling of not being able to empty the bowel completely, an urgency to move the bowels, rectal cramping, or rectal bleeding. You should see your health care provider if you experience any of the common warning signs, such as blood in the stool, as well as long or thin stools. Also if you feel unexplained fatigue, loss of appetite or loss of weight.
Since colon cancer does not produce symptoms during the early stages, it is recommended that all men, age fifty and older, go for routine colorectal cancer screening tests. These various tests can detect the disease before symptoms are noticed. The most common methods of colorectal cancer screening are the sigmoidoscopy and the fecal occult blood test. A sigmoidoscopy is a test that uses advanced technology in order to detect infections or abnormal growths in the colon. The advantage of sigmoidoscopy is that it can detect colorectal cancer much better than some other methods of colorectal cancer screening. However, sigmoidoscopy can not detect abnormalities in the upper colon, which a regular colonoscopy can do. The fecal occult blood test is commonly used for screening of colorectal cancer, however, it is not used as the primary test for detecting the disease. The fecal occult blood test is conducted by taking a stool sample from the patient and placing it on a special medicated pad. Next, a specific chemical compound is inserted at the top of the fecal sample. If the stool sample turns blue, then that indicates that there is blood present in the patient's stool. A positive result from the fecal occult blood test, means there is reason for further testing, as blood in the stool could indicate colon cancer or other various infections or diseases. Further testing is almost always suggested after a positive result in this test.
Colorectal Cancer Diagnosis
There are multiple ways to detect, or diagnose colon cancer, such as the colonoscopy and virtual colonoscopy examinations. The ladder being more comfortable for the patient, but the regular colonoscopy has been proven to be much more accurate. Both exams require certain preparations from the patient before the exams take place. The patient must only drink clear liquids during the forty eight hours prior to the exam and must not eat any solid foods twenty four hours before the exam. Certain liquid or pill form drugs might be given to the patient in order to maintain a completely clean and clear colon.
Colorectal Cancer Prognosis
The prognosis for colorectal cancer can vary from patient to patient based on what actually caused the disease. Like many other cancers, the earlier the disease is detected, the better the chances are of survival for the patient. Aside from when the disease is detected there are other factors that can affect the prognosis. These factors include the patient's overall medical health as well as whether or not there is a family history of the disease. While these factors are important, the stage at which the cancer is detected has the biggest influence on the survival rate.
Colorectal Cancer Staging
Staging for colon cancer is similar to most other cancers. Specialists use the common TNM system to determine how advanced the disease is in the patient. This staging process includes four stages. Each stage is limited to different ranks of each letter (T,N and M). The "T", which stands for tumor, is used to determine how large or small the actual tumor is, and whether or not it has grown large enough to penetrate surrounding tissue. The "N", which stands for node (as in lymph node), is used to determine how many local lymph nodes are affected by the tumor. Finally the "M", which stands for metastasis, is used to determine whether or not the cancer has grown from it's origin to other organs of the body.
Colorectal Cancer Treatment
Colorectal cancer treatment methods vary depending on when the disease is detected. If the cancer is found during the early stages and is small enough, the doctor will most likely remove it through surgery. Up until about thirty years ago, colon cancer surgery was conducted by the surgeon making one long incision and removing the cancer through the one incision. This resulted in a long and very painful recovery. However, advancements in medical technology lead health care providers to discover a more productive method to remove colorectal cancer. Laparoscopic surgery indicates surgery with a laparoscope. Instead of one long incision, in laparoscopic surgery, the surgeon makes up to six small incisions in order to remove the tumor. The several smaller incisions result in a much quicker and less painful recovery process as opposed to the recovery from the one long incision. The laparoscope is a small unique camera which allows the surgeon to see inside the colon, making it easier to remove both the tumor and both sides of the colon that are infected. The two sides of the colon are stitched back into the colon once the tumor is removed.
Colorectal cancer chemotherapy is usually used as a last resort option of treatment for colorectal cancer. Chemotherapy refers to drugs that help eliminate cancer cells. The decision to use chemotherapy as treatment for colorectal cancer is usually made after the cancer has grown to the point where it can not be surgically removed.
Colorectal Cancer Statistics
Colorectal cancer is ranked as the second leading cause of death (from cancer) in the United States. Although the number of individuals diagnosed with colorectal cancer each year remains the same; colorectal cancer related deaths have significantly decreased. This success can be attributed to the constant awareness and funds raised in support of treatment and research for the disease. According to American Cancer Society, last year, an estimated 148,000 individuals were diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and over 55,000 men and women died from the disease. For any individual diagnosed with colorectal cancer, the five-year survival rate is 64.1 percent. The survival rate has risen over the past few years, due to the fact that over 40 percent of colorectal cancer is caught within the confined primary site.
Colorectal Cancer Research
Recent research in colorectal cancer deals mainly with alternative methods of screening, prevention and as with research for most cancers, an ultimate cure for the disease. Recent clinical trials for colon cancer have tested various vitamin supplements affects on the disease. Some studies have suggested that people who regularly use multi-vitamins that include a source folate, as well as vitamin D and calcium, have a reduced risk for colorectal cancer. Since these studies are new, there are many tests currently being conducted to either back up or disprove these claims.
Colorectal Cancer Awareness
Up until the the 1990s, colorectal cancer did not get much public attention. Within the last two decades, multiple celebrities have helped raise awareness for the disease. This has caused much more money to be donated towards research. In 1998, the famous CBS journalist co-founded the Jay Monahan Center for Gastrointestinal Health. This organization was named after Katie's husband who died from colorectal cancer. The idea behind starting the organization was that if more was known about the disease, than more could be done in order to prevent or possibly cure it. It was only eleven years ago, since March became known as Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. This annual tradition came to fruition with the help of several major cancer organizations. The first Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month was March of 2000. This year will be the tenth Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. While many organizations have helped raise untold sums of money for colorectal cancer research, awareness and development of treatments, there are still an outstanding amount of deaths each year related to colorectal cancer. Deaths related to colorectal cancer rank among the top of cancer related deaths. In order to fix this epidemic, multiple celebrities have donated money, started organizations and done everything in their power to help raise awareness for colorectal cancer.
While there have been many advancements in colorectal cancer research, such as methods of prevention, screening and surgery; there is still much need for further research. The screening methods available for detecting colorectal cancer are not as accurate as medical experts would like them to be. Awareness for colorectal cancer has risen dramatically within the last two decades, which has lead to an increase in successful clinical trials as well as more productive methods of surgery. Colorectal cancer still remains as one of the most common cancers as well as one of the most deadliest. This is why further research and development of treatment is necessary.