Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in both men and women. It is also one of the most preventable cancers, yet it is still responsible for over 50,000 deaths each year in the United States alone. The good news is that there are many things you can do to reduce your risk of developing colorectal cancer. For example, you can get screened for the disease starting at age 50. You can also make lifestyle changes such as eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and quitting smoking. Making these simple changes can go a long way toward reducing your risk of colorectal cancer
Colorectal Cancer Treatment in Tucson, AZ
What is Colorectal Cancer?
Colorectal cancer, also known as bowel cancer, is a type of cancer that affects the colon and rectum. The colon is the large intestine, while the rectum is the final part of the digestive system. Colorectal cancer usually starts as a small growth, or polyp, on the lining of the colon or rectum. In most cases, these polyps are harmless. However, some types of polyps can develop into cancer over time.
Risk factors for colorectal cancer include age, family history, inflammatory bowel disease, and lifestyle choices such as smoking and diet. Symptoms of colorectal cancer include blood in the stool, abdominal pain, and changes in bowel habits. If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to see a doctor for a diagnosis. Treatment options for colorectal cancer include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. With early detection and treatment, colorectal cancer is often curable.
Types of Colorectal Cancer
The most common type of colorectal cancer is adenocarcinoma. This form accounts for 95% of all cases; it develops in the cells lining the colon and rectum.
Polyps, which can be seen during a colonoscopy, sometimes become cancerous. Colon cancers are often found when they are already large and advanced; however, if the cancer is caught at an early stage before it spreads to other parts of the body (metastasizes), treatment may be possible.
There are two main types of colorectal cancer:
- Colorectal adenocarcinoma – “Adeno” refers to a gland, while “carcinoma” is cancer that primarily affects epithelial cells lining surfaces both inside and outside the body. One specific type of adenocarcinoma occurs in the colon or rectum area and slowly builds up from the inner layers.
- Gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors – Carcinoid tumors form in cells known as neuroendocrine cells, which aid in the creation of hormones. Carcinoid tumor cells grow slowly, and they’re commonly discovered in the lungs or gastrointestinal tract. Out of all colorectal cancers, carcinoid tumors account for around 1%. Likewise, half of all small intestine cancers are also carcinoid tumors.
Additionally, there are also some rare types of colorectal cancer:
- Primary colorectal lymphomas – Lymphoma is a type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system, which is comprised of cells called lymphocytes. These cells are responsible for helping the body fight infection. Lymphoma may develop in many different parts of the body, including but not limited to: the lymph nodes, bone marrow, spleen, thymus and digestive tract. Out of all colorectal cancers, primary colorectal lymphomas account for only 0.5%. Similarly, this type of cancer represents about 5% of all diagnosed cases of lymphoma. It should be noted that this particular form of colorectal cancer usually appears later on in life; additionally, male patients seem to be more susceptible than females.
- Gastrointestinal stromal tumors – Over half of gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs) occur in the stomach. GISTs are a rare type of colorectal cancer that forms from special cells in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract called interstitial cells of Cajal (ICCs). Even though most other GISTs originate from the small intestine, the rectum is where you’ll find the third largest number developing. They generally fall into categories like sarcomas–cancers that begin within connective tissues such as fat, muscle, blood vessels, and so on–which also include deep skin tissue, nerves, bones, and cartilage.
- Colon and rectal leiomyosarcomas – A leiomyosarcoma is a form of sarcoma that implies “cancer of smooth muscular tissue.” The colon and rectum have three layers of the kind of muscle damaged by leiomyosarcoma, and all three work together to move waste through the digestive system. This uncommon type of colorectal cancer affects about 0.1% of all colorectal illnesses.
- Colon and rectal melanomas – Melanomas are commonly associated with skin cancer, but they may also start to develop in other places, like the colon or rectum. They may spread to the gastrointestinal tract from the primary melanoma site too. Melanomas make up 1% to 3% of all cancers that develop in the digestive system, according to research published in BMJ Case Reports. Scientists don’t understand how melanomas develop in the colon very well because it’s extremely rare for them to occur there. A person with a possible diagnosis may need a biopsy and other tests are done to determine whether it spread from another part of their body or started in their colon or rectum originally.
- Colorectal squamous cell carcinoma – Although this cancer, also known as SCC, is uncommon in the colon (with fewer than 100 cases reported in the literature as of a 2017 case study in the Journal of Community Hospital Internal Medicine Perspectives), it is more common in other parts of the body. Squamous cell carcinoma is usually linked to skin cancer because it’s the second most prevalent form of skin cancer. Squamous cells are a kind of cell that can be found in many places throughout the human body. When these cells begin growing uncontrollably and become malignant, they develop squamous cell carcinoma. The reason behind this unusual lack of occurrence in the colon and rectum isn’t well understood.
- Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) – According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 1% of all cancers in the colon or rectum are associated with familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP). People with this syndrome often develop hundreds or even thousands of colon or rectal polyps between the ages of 10 and 12. Left unchecked, nearly every person diagnosed with FAP will eventually develop colorectal cancer; as a result, some people elect to have their entire colon removed as a preventative measure.
What are the symptoms of Colorectal Cancer?
One of the most common symptoms associated with colorectal cancer is a bloody stool, as the Cleveland Clinic notes. Tumors often bleed when fecal matter passes through them and out of the body, resulting in light to moderate blood loss. However, if tumors are large, patients may experience heavier bleeding.
Although blood in the stool is not always indicative of a serious condition, it is best to err on the side of caution and bring it up with your doctor. Other less harmful conditions such as hemorrhoids or constipation can also cause blood to show in the stool.
How is Colorectal cancer diagnosed?
If you suspect that you might have colorectal cancer, you should consult your physician regarding taking one or more of the following tests:
- Fecal immunochemical test (FIT): This test looks for blood in the stool that is not readily apparent to the naked eye. Stool may be collected using tubes at home to perform this test. At a lab, any blood would be detected in the stool sample.
- Guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT): This test works similarly to the FIT test by looking for hidden blood in stool samples. These specimens can be collected from home and sent to a lab for analysis. This type of screening uses chemical reactions to identify any potential traces of blood, though it cannot determine where in the digestive tract this might be coming from. If abnormal results are found, additional testing will be required to pinpoint the bleeding source precisely.
- Fecal DNA test: The fecal DNA test is designed to identify colorectal cancer by scanning for abnormalities in an individual’s stool sample. The test specifically looks for genetic mutations or blood products that can be indicative of colon cancer.
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy: A sigmoidoscopy is a type of flexible endoscopic examination that utilizes a sigmoidoscope to look into the rectum and lower bowel. Unlike the instrument utilized during a colonoscopy, this gadget is not as long, allowing for only part of the colon to be seen. The sigmoidoscope is inserted into the anus, and up through the rectum and sigmoid colon (s-shaped portion), The cyst is removed through an open technique, allowing the caregiver optimal access. This is a short outpatient surgery that may be done without medicine. To perform this procedure, your bowel must be empty; this may generally be achieved with the help of a laxative and/or enema before the test. Small polyps discovered during the examination can be removed and analyzed for cancer to confirm if these tests are accurate. If these checks come back positive, a colonoscopy will be performed
- Colonoscopy: The best approach to examine for colorectal polyps and cancer is through a colonoscopy. A long, flexible scope (called a colonoscope) is used by a physician during a colonoscopy to look at the rectum and whole intestine. Polyps may be removed and tested for signs of cancer during the procedure. Before the procedure begins, the bowel must be cleansed—with the help of a laxative (“bowel preparation”).
- Double contrast barium enema: A barium enema is an X-ray examination of the colon and rectum in which a person is given barium through the rectum. Air is then blown into the rectum to expand the colon so that it produces an outline of the colon on an X-ray. Despite its name, this method should not be used for colorectal cancer screening because it is inaccurate and requires bowel preparation ahead of time.
- CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy): CT colonoscopy, or virtual colonoscopy, is a scan of the abdomen and pelvis using X-rays. This test does not require sedation. Before the examination can occur though, like with colonoscopy and barium enema, the patient must clean out their colon. If a polyp is found during CT colonoscopy, then a regular Colonoscopy procedure must be scheduled.
Colorectal cancer can be diagnosed via various tests. You or your medical professional may notice symptoms, or an abnormal result might show up on a screening test.
There are five stages of Colorectal cancer:
Stage 0: In stage 0, cancerous cells are discovered in either the colon or rectal wall’s innermost layer. These malignant cells may spread and affect normal tissue surrounding it. Stage 0 is also known as carcinoma in situ.
Stage I: Cancer has spread from the innermost layer, called the mucosa, of the colon or rectum wall to either the submucosa (the layer next to the mucosa) or cancer is present in the muscle layer.
Stage II: Cancer has spread to the serosa (outermost layer) of the colon or rectum wall, which is known as perirectal cancer.
Stage III: Cancer has spread to adjacent organs through the serosa (outermost layer) of the colon or rectum wall. Cancer has spread to 1 or more lymph nodes, or cancer cells have formed in tissue near the lymph nodes.
Stage IV: Cancer has infiltrated the abdominal lining and may have metastasized to other organs or areas.
What are the treatments for Colorectal cancer?
The treatments that will be most successful for you depend on numerous factors, such as where your cancer is located, how advanced it is, and your other health concerns. Surgery to remove the cancer is typically the recommended treatment for colon cancer. However, depending on your individual situation, radiation therapy or chemotherapy might also be advised.
- Surgery – Surgery is a common treatment for colorectal cancer and can be very effective in treating the disease. The type of surgery will depend on the cancer stage and the tumor’s location. In some cases, the surgeon may be able to remove just the cancerous tissue, while in other cases, more extensive surgery may be necessary. The goal of surgery is to remove all of the cancerous tissue and to leave healthy tissue intact. Surgery for colorectal cancer is typically performed by a team of surgeons, which may include a general surgeon, a colon and rectal surgeon, and a gastroenterologist. The type of surgery that is performed will also depend on the patient’s overall health and medical history.
- Chemotherapy – Cancer cells are destroyed by chemotherapy. If the tumor is bigger or has spread to the lymph nodes, chemotherapy is usually given following surgery. Chemotherapy may eliminate any cancer cells that remain in the body and help prevent cancer recurrence in this manner.
- Radiation therapy – Radiation therapy employs potent energy sources, for example X-rays and protons, to kill cancer cells. It might be utilized to reduce the size of a large tumor before surgery so that it can be more easily removed.
- Targeted drug therapy – Targeted drug treatments work by targeting and then blocking specific abnormalities present within cancer cells. This in turn causes the cancer cells to die.
- Immunotherapy – Immunotherapy is a type of drug therapy that trains your immune system to fight cancer. Cancer cells produce chemicals that hide nearby immune cells from seeing them, therefore the disease-fighting ability of your body may not be able to eliminate them. This method is disrupted by immunotherapy.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to breast cancer treatment, and the best course of action will be decided by a team of specialists. If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, talk to your doctor about the best treatment options for you.
What are the side effects of Colorectal cancer treatment?
While colorectal cancer treatment has come a long way in recent years, it can still take a toll on the body. Common side effects of treatment include fatigue, pain, diarrhea, constipation, and nausea. Some patients also experience mouth sores, hair loss, and weight loss. These side effects can be challenging to deal with, but there are ways to manage them.
For example, many patients find that regular exercise helps to reduce fatigue. Pain can be managed with medication, and constipation can be alleviated by eating high-fiber foods and staying hydrated. If side effects are proving to be especially difficult to cope with, it is important to talk to a doctor or nurse for additional support.
What is the role of radiation therapy in Colorectal Cancer?
Radiation therapy is a common treatment for colorectal cancer. It uses high-energy beams to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy can be used alone or in combination with other treatments, such as surgery or chemotherapy. When used alone, radiation therapy is usually given after surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells.
It can also be used to relieve symptoms, such as pain or bleeding. Radiation therapy is generally well tolerated, but it can cause side effects, such as fatigue, diarrhea, and skin irritation. Most people who receive radiation therapy are able to continue their normal activities during treatment.
What is the prognosis for someone with Colorectal cancer?
According to the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) program, relative survival rates can greatly differ based on cancer stage.
- Stages I and II: The five-year relative survival rate is 89.9%
- Stage III: 65.7% five-year relative survival rate.
- Stage IV: The five-year relative survival rate for this disease is 14.2%.
Risk Factors for Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer occurs when the DNA in cells in the colon or rectum develops mutations. In some cases, these mutated cells die or are attacked by the immune system. But other times, these mutated cells may escape detection and grow out of control, forming a tumor in the colon or rectum.
While the true cause of colorectal cancer is unknown, there are some prominent risk factors that have been linked to the disease. These include diet, tobacco smoking, and heavy alcohol consumption. Additionally, people who have certain hereditary cancer syndromes or a family history of colorectal cancer are at a greater risk of developing the disease themselves.
- Gender – Breast cancer is around 100 times more common in women than in men.
- Age – The risk of breast cancer increases with age, with the majority of cases occurring in women over the age of 50.
- Family history – Having a first-degree relative (mother, sister, daughter) with breast cancer increases your risk by two to three times. If you have two first-degree relatives with breast cancer, your risk is five to six times higher than average.
- Genetic mutations – Inheriting certain genetic mutations, such as those in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, can increase your risk of developing breast cancer.
- Breast density – Women with dense breast tissue (less fat and more glandular and connective tissue) have a higher risk of developing breast cancer. This is because dense tissue can make it harder for doctors to spot abnormalities on mammograms.
How can you reduce your risk of getting Colorectal cancer?
Here are six methods for maintaining good colorectal health.
- Screening for colorectal cancer should begin at an early age. Screenings are procedures that look for cancer before symptoms appear. These examinations can discover colon or rectal cancer earlier when therapies are more likely to be effective. For those with average risk, the American Cancer Society recommends beginning testing at age 45. Some colorectal screening tests can also identify and remove pre-cancerous growths (polyps) in the colon or rectum.
- Consume a lot of veggies, fruits, and whole grains. Diets that include a lot of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains have been linked to a decreased risk of colon or rectal cancer. Also, eat less red meat (beef, pork, or lamb) and processed meats (hot dogs and some luncheon meats), which have been connected with an increased risk of colorectal cancer.
- Get up and move! If you’re not regularly physically active, you may have a greater chance of developing colorectal cancer. Staying active can help reduce your risk.
- You can improve your colon and rectal cancer risk by managing your weight. This means making healthier dietary choices and being more active physically.
- Quit smoking now. If you’ve been smoking for a while, you’re more likely to develop and die from colon or rectal cancer than people who don’t smoke.
- Although it is best to not drink alcohol at all to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer, if you do drink, the American Cancer Society recommends limiting yourself to two drinks a day for men and one for women. One drink equals 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits (hard liquor).
We are here to help
Colorectal cancer is a frightening diagnosis to receive, but with the assistance of our experienced team of specialists and nurses, you may feel confident that you’re receiving the best possible care. We think that each patient should have their own particular treatment plan because we believe that everyone is unique, and we will work with you to discover the greatest solution for your situation.
We want to ensure that you have the best possible chance of recovery, so we’ll tailor a plan just for you. It might include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy or targeted therapy—or any combination thereof. If at any point you have questions or need clarification about anything, please reach out to us. We’re here for you every step of the way.
We are here to support you during this stressful time.