Colorectal Cancer

Finding colorectal cancer early can be highly curable. This occurs when abnormal cells grow in the lining of the large intestine (colon), or the rectum. This can occur in both men and women and has the 2nd highest rate of cancer deaths in the U.S.

Polyp growths occur on the inside of your intestines, but most of them are harmless. Some can turn into colorectal cancer if not removed early. Two different types of intestinal polys are adenomas and hyperplastic polyps that form when there are problems with the way the cells grow and repair in the lining of the colon.

Some things that occur where you can’t control it are your age, where most people diagnosed with it are older than 50, polyps or inflammatory bowel disease and family history of colorectal cancer or precancerous colon polyps.

There are some factors that you can control like eating a lot of red or processed meats or those cooked at high temperatures that should be avoided. Obesity, not exercising enough, smoking and heavy alcohol use should also be controlled.

There aren’t early warning signs so it’s very important to get checked. Finding colorectal cancer early means it’s much more curable. As it gets worse, you might see blood in your stool or have some pain in your belly, constipation or diarrhea, unexplained weight loss or fatigue. Usually the tumors tend to be bigger and harder to treat by the time these symptoms appear.

The screening tests that are available are the key to an early diagnosis. You should have a colonoscopy every 10 years once you turn 50. A tiny tube with a tiny camera is used to look at the whole colon and rectum, and can help to prevent colorectal cancer by finding the tumors early. If you have polyps, your doctor will remove them at that time. A CT scan can also be done that shows a 3-D model of your colon, without placing a camera inside your body. This can miss small polyps and if your doctor does see some, you will still need to have a colonoscopy for their removal. If you have polyps you may need a colonoscopy every 5 years. Another test is the barium enema, which are x-rays that give the doctor a glimpse inside the colon and rectum. Instead of a colonoscopy, they may suggest a flexible sigmoidoscopy that also looks inside your rectum and bottom part of the colon.

A home fecal blood test will show if you have blood in your stool and may indicate a colonoscopy. There is a new test called Cologuard that also looks for blood or suspicious DNA in the stool and is quite accurate, but you will still need a colonoscopy if blood is found.

Following any possible tumor, you will need a biopsy that can be done at the time of the colonoscopy.

At that point the cancer will be “staged” as

Stage 0: cancer is in the innermost lining of the colon or rectum,
Stage 1: the disease has grown into the muscle layer of the colon or rectum,
Stage 2: cancer has grown into or through the outermost layer of the colon or rectum,
Stage 3: it has spread to one or more lymph nodes in the area and
Stage 4, it has spread to other parts of the body.

The survival rate depends upon the stage of your cancer. Surgery has a high cure rate in the early stages where they remove the tumors and surrounding tissue. If they are big they may need to take out an entire piece of your colon or rectum, but if it affects your liver, lungs or other organs, surgery will most likely not help you. Chemo will probably make you sick but some medications can help you control it. Perhaps, in my opinion, before beginning any type of chemo it might be wiser to try some alternative treatments to build your immune system.

Dr Fredda Branyon