What Are Colorectal Cancers?
Colon cancer is cancer of the colon (large intestine), and rectal cancer is cancer of the rectum (the last several inches of the colon). Together, these two diseases are typically referred to as colorectal cancers.
In most cases, colon cancer is the result of benign polyps that become cancerous over time. Regular screenings are recommended as a preventative measure against colon cancer to identify polyps early
Other factors that may increase the risk for developing colorectal cancers include:
- A personal history of colorectal cancers or polyps. If a patient had a colorectal cancer or polyps in the past, there is an increased risk for developing one of the colorectal cancers in the future.
- A sedentary lifestyle. Lack of activity can increase risk.
- Age. Most patients diagnosed with colorectal cancer are 50 years of age and older. The disease occurs less frequently in younger patients.
- Alcohol. Heavily consuming alcohol may increase a patient’s risk.
- Diabetes. Patients with diabetes and insulin resistance (IR) have an increased risk
- Diet. A low-fiber, high-fat diet may be associated with developing colorectal cancers.
- Family history of colorectal cancers and polyps. Patients with a parent, sibling or child with one of the diseases may also be a risk. The risk becomes greater when more than one family member has had it.
- Genetic syndromes. Certain genetic syndromes, such as adenomatous polyposis and hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (also known as Lynch syndrome) can escalate risk *
- Inflammatory intestinal conditions. Inflammatory bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, may also increase risk.
- Obesity. Patients who are obese not only have an increased risk of developing colorectal cancers but of dying of them as well.
- Race. African-Americans have a greater risk of colorectal cancers than other races
- Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy for other cancers of the abdomen may increase a patient’s chances of developing colorectal cancers.
- Smoking. Patients who smoke cigarettes are more likely to develop colorectal cancers than those who do not.
Colorectal Cancer Screenings
Colonoscopies are the gold standard of the screenings for colorectal cancer. During a colonoscopy, a doctor uses a flexible scope with a camera and light at the end to check for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and the entire colon. During the test, the doctor can find, remove, and take samples of any polyps that may be present. A colonoscopy is also used as a follow-up test if anything unusual is found during one of the other types of colorectal screening tests. American Cancer Society now recommends screening at 45 years old and then every 10 years, unless instructed more often by a doctor.
CT Colonography (Virtual Colonoscopy)
Computed tomography (CT) colonography, also called a virtual colonoscopy, uses X-rays and computers to produce images of the entire colon. Doctors view these images on a computer screen to analyze more closely. The goal of screening with CT colonography is to find polyps in their early stages before cancer has a chance to develop. If a polyp is found by a CT Colonography exam the patient would need a colonoscopy to remove it.
A sigmoidoscopy is similar to, but not the same as, a colonoscopy. A sigmoidoscopy only examines up to the sigmoid, the most distal part of the colon, while colonoscopy examines the whole large bowel. For this test, the doctor puts a short, thin, flexible, lighted tube into your rectum to check for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and lower third of the colon. It is an alternative option, but not as good as colonoscopy, as it may miss up to 40% of colon cancers.
Guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT) use the chemical guaiac to detect blood in the stool. For this test, you will receive a test kit from your healthcare provider containing a stick or brush to obtain a small amount of stool with. You then return the test kit to the doctor or a lab, where the stool samples are checked for the presence of blood. Guaiac-based fecal occult blood tests are very easy way of checking monitoring a healthy digestive tract.
What Are the Treatments for Colorectal Cancers?
Treatments for these conditions largely depend on what stage the cancers are in. They may include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Your gastroenterologist can recommend a surgeon if further action needs to be taken.
If you have any questions about your need for colorectal cancers, do not hesitate to speak to your doctor or doctor’s office staff about it. Please consult a doctor for any medical advice you may have. You may also contact us here to find more information and additional details.