Colorectal cancer refers to cancer of both the colon and the rectum, and it is the second most common cancer in both men and women. Colon and rectum cancer share many of the same features, so they are often referred to together as colorectal.
Some risk factors for colorectal cancer include:
The exact cause of colorectal cancer is not known, but managing your diet and exercise can play a significant role in preventing these diseases. Eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grain foods, and avoiding high-fat, low-fiber foods, plus appropriate exercise – even small amounts on a regular basis – can be helpful.
Perhaps most important to the prevention of colorectal cancer is having screening tests at the appropriate ages. Because some colorectal cancers can’t be prevented, finding them early is the best way to improve the chances of successful treatment.
Screening methods for colorectal cancer, for people who do not have any symptoms or strong risk factors, include the following:
- Digital rectal examination (DRE)
A physician or healthcare provider inserts a gloved finger into the rectum to feel for anything unusual or abnormal.
- Fecal occult blood test
This test checks for hidden (occult) blood in the stool. It involves placing a very small amount of stool on a special card, which is then tested in the physician's office or sent to a laboratory.
This is a diagnostic procedure that allows the physician to examine the inside of a portion of the large intestine, and is helpful in identifying the causes of diarrhea, abdominal pain, constipation, abnormal growths, and bleeding. A short, flexible, lighted tube, called a sigmoidoscope, is inserted into the intestine through the rectum. The scope blows air into the intestine to inflate it and make viewing the inside easier.
This is a procedure that allows the physician to view the entire length of the large intestine, and can often help identify abnormal growths, inflamed tissue, ulcers, and bleeding. It involves inserting a colonoscope, a long, flexible, lighted tube, in through the rectum up into the colon. The colonoscope allows the physician to see the lining of the colon, remove tissue for further examination, and possibly treat some problems that are discovered.
- Barium enema with air contrast (double contrast barium enema)
Fluid called barium (a metallic, chemical, chalky, liquid used to coat the inside of organs so that they will show up on an x-ray) is given into the rectum to partially fill up the colon. An x-ray of the abdomen shows strictures (narrowed areas), obstructions (blockages), and other problems.
Symptoms of colorectal cancer may resemble other conditions, like infections, hemorrhoids and inflammatory bowel disease. It is also possible to have colorectal cancer and not have any symptoms, which makes screening important.
Each individual experiences symptoms differently, and should check with their physicians if they experience any of the following common symptoms of colorectal cancer:
- Change in bowl habits such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool that lasts for more than a few days.
- Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool.
- Cramping or gnawing stomach pain.
- Decreased appetite.
- Weakness and fatigue.
- Jaundice – Yellowing of the skin and eyes.
Specific treatment for colorectal cancer will be determined by your physician based on:
- Your age, overall health, and medical history.
- Extent of the disease.
- Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies.
- Expectations for the course of this disease.
- Your opinion or preference.
After the colorectal cancer is diagnosed and staged, your physician will recommend a treatment plan. Treatment may include: