Colorectal cancer is known to be one of the most commonly diagnosed types of cancer in both men and women in the United States and the third-leading cause of cancer-related deaths. Despite its prevalence, the death rate for colorectal cancer has been dropping over the past few decades. One reason for this is more advanced screening methods for early detection. Still, colorectal cancer is pervasive and can happen to anyone. Let’s take a look at colorectal cancer signs and symptoms, treatments options, risk factors and more.
Colorectal cancer begins in the colon or rectum and is also referred to as colon cancer or rectal cancer depending on where the cancer originated. Despite where it’s located, these cancers are categorized together because they share many similarities.
Colorectal cancer often starts with a growth knows as a polyp. The polyp is often found in the lining of the rectum or colon and can be benign. These are the 5 main types of polyps:
Adenomatous (tubular adenomas) polyps: Most common type, typically 70% of the polyps found in the colon. Most are not precancerous, but larger once pose a high risk for morphing into cancer. Treated with removal during colonoscopy; requires regular follow-up screenings.
Inflammatory polyps: Typically found in people with IBD, typically benign, and treated by removal during colonoscopy.
Hyperplastic polyps: Small polyps found near the end of the colon and the rectum, considered low risk, and treated with removal during colonoscopy.
Villous or Tubulovillous adenoma polyp: Makes up about 15% of polyps found in the colon. Most do not develop into cancer but larger ones pose a higher risk. These polyps can be flat and tougher to remove during colonoscopies; larger ones may require surgery.
Serrated adenoma polyp: They makeup 10 to 15 percent of polyps and cause 20 to 30 percent of colon cancers. These polyps are the most difficult to detect during colonoscopies.
The characteristics of the polyp can determine someone’s risk of developing colorectal cancer based on the type, size and whether or not it spreads. If cancer grows in a polyp, the cells can begin to grow in the wall of the colon or rectum, beginning in the inner layer and rising outwardly. How far the cancer has spread will determine the stage of cancer a person is diagnosed with.
Symptoms of colorectal cancer can also be attributed to other, non-life-threatening issues such as hemorrhoids, IBS, or an infection. In some cases, people who exhibit the symptoms of colon cancer do not have cancer. And, in turn, others with colon cancer may not have it detected and treated early because they attribute their symptoms to something else. Common colorectal cancer symptoms include:
Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool
Sudden onset of diarrhea, constipation, etc. that lasts more than a few days
Unexplained weight loss
Symptoms can often not present themselves until the cancer has spread, which is why colorectal specialists recommend screenings for those with a risk of developing colon cancer.
Risk factors for colorectal cancer can increase a person’s chance of developing the disease based on certain genetic or lifestyle factors. Lifestyle factors that can increase your risk of developing colorectal cancer include:
Being overweight or obese
Diets high in red meats or processed meats
Heavy alcohol use
Additionally, there are colorectal cancer risk factors you cannot change, including:
Age – colorectal cancer is more common in older adults
A history of developing polyps
Having an inflammatory bowel disease
A family history of colorectal cancer
Having type-2 diabetes
If you’ve been diagnosed with colorectal cancer, your doctor will discuss different options for treatment with you. These can include colorectal surgery, radiation, prescription drug treatments such as chemotherapy, or targeted therapy. It’s important to discuss all treatment options with your doctor and your loved ones to determine the best course of action for you.
The best way to prevent colorectal cancer is to make healthy lifestyle choices and engage in regular screenings once you’ve hit a certain age. If you have a family history of colorectal cancer, your doctor may recommend you receive screenings earlier and more frequently. Technology and awareness have made early detection able to save many lives from colorectal cancer. To speak with one of our colorectal specialist, feel free to contact us today or book an appointment.