March is colorectal cancer awareness month. I thought I’d share a few things about this cancer that affects about 134,000 persons per year in the USA alone. Colorectal cancers arise in the large gut – colon or rectum.
Here are 4 things to know:
There are well known risk factors. Some examples are family history, some genetic syndromes like Lynch syndrome and FAP, getting older, having polyps, being overweight an inactive, etc. There may be a link to high fat diets, smoking and alcohol also. Having inflammatory bowel disease also increases risk of colorectal cancer.
We can do a lot about secondary prevention (catching it early). People at highest risk, such as those with ulcerative colitis, may have their colon removed to prevent this (primary prevention). Some medications are also being studied to help this kind of cancer from developing. For the average person though, the bigger focus is secondary prevention. Checking stools for blood (fecal occult blood test) or DNA (Cologuard®), and/or having a video camera tube examination (sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy) can help find such tumors early. The average person might start colorectal cancer screening at 50. Blood in stool and changed bowel habits can be early symptoms. Abdominal pain and weight loss may be later symptoms although each case is different.
Treatment for colorectal cancer may involve several modalities. Surgery may be performed, chemotherapy and radiation may also be given. This depends on stage and many other factors. Some cases can be cut out and not need any chemotherapy or radiation. Some cases may required chemotherapy and radiation even before surgery.
There are many available treatments for incurable stage IV colorectal cancer. The average person is surviving longer and longer (possibly for years) due to major research advances. There are many chemotherapy drugs now available, some IV and others pills. This is very encouraging and we hope this trend continues.
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