Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States.
What should you know about colorectal cancer? How can you protect yourself?
When you’re ready to find out more about colorectal cancer and learn how you can stay healthy, keep reading.
What is Colorectal Cancer?
Colorectal cancer is an unusual cell growth, called a polyp, which develops in the regions of the colon or rectum. It poses a serious risk of spreading to other areas of the body. Non-cancerous polyps may also develop, so your doctor must run a biopsy to determine which you have.
The upper 5 feet of the large intestine comprises the colon, while the last 6 to 8 inches constitutes the rectum. Cancerous polyps that develop in the upper 5 feet are therefore called “colon cancer,” or “bowel cancer.” Polyps that develop in the last 6 to 8 inches is termed rectal cancer.
Who’s at Risk?
The risk factors for developing colon cancer are determined by the following:
- Activity level
- Family history
- Alcohol consumption
Older folks and people who live sedate lifestyles are at a higher risk. The same is true for folks who drink alcohol or eat diets high in saturated fats.
What Will Happen If You Develop Colorectal Cancer?
If you contract colon or rectum cancer, these are the signs:
- Blood in stools
- Abdominal cramps or gas
- Partial or complete blockage of the colon
- Weight loss
- Diarrhea, constipation, bloating
What if you are asymptomatic and concerned about possibly having colorectal cancer? Then you should see your primary care provider immediately. Medical practitioners offer early diagnosis through screening.
Preventative measures like this will help your doctors catch your cancer during its infancy. It’s easier to cure before it spreads.
Colorectal Cancer Screening
Statistical data recommends regular colorectal screening procedures for people older than 50. Mortality rate decreases the earlier your doctors catch and treat it. Through effective screening, you minimize the threat of developing fatal abnormalities. For this purpose, screening is available in 2 different forms:
Stool test: intestine occult blood testing
Direct visualization tests: sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, and virtual colonoscopy
With stool tests, a lab technician uses chemicals on a sample of stool you provide. The chemicals can detect blood that’s hidden in the stool but invisible to the naked eye. The blood is an indicator of cancer.
The visuals tests are performed by a doctor who visually inspects your colon and rectum. They use instruments, such as tiny medical cameras, which they insert through your anus. They then search for signs inside the lining of your colon.
Fecal Occult Blood Testing
FOBT, or fecal occult blood testing, readily indicates the presence of bleeding in the feces possibly occurring due to the presence of a polyp or cancer. Following are the types included in FOBT:
Guaiac fecal occult blood testing: In this guaiac-based test, the stool is smeared on special chemical-based papers or cards and is examined for change in its color.
Fecal immunochemical test: This method utilizes the antibodies for detecting hemoglobin in the stool sample provided by you.
FIT- DNA test or stool DNA test: This test checks your stool sample for the presence of immuno-chemicals that your body would produce if you had cancer. It also checks for signs of cancerous DNA found in the shed cells of your intestine lining. They regularly slough off your intestine, and your body excretes them with other solid waste.
Each of these tests requires a small sample of your stool. A medical professional will provide you with a small plastic cup and a wooden tongue depressor. During your next bowel movement, you take a small bit of stool and smear it inside your cup before handing it in.
Sigmoidoscopes are small tube-like instruments that have lights and a camera. They help your doctor get eyes on abnormal growths (polyps or cancers) in the rectum and lower colon. Your doctor inserts the sigmoidoscope via the rectum into the lower colon, or sigmoid.
If your doctor finds a suspect polyp, he will cut it out and run a biopsy to determine whether it’s benign or cancerous.
A colonoscopy is another advanced test that detects polyps along the length of the colon and rectum. It’s similar to a sigmoidoscopy, using a light and a camera. A colonoscopy has one advantage over a sigmoidoscopy: it investigates the whole length of the colon and rectum.
A virtual colonoscopy creates images of your colon and rectum using X-rays and computers. It’s a non-invasive approach. A doctor analyzes the resulting images on screens. A virtual colonoscopy is also known as computerized tomography (CT) or colonography.
It’s slightly different from the usual colonoscopy because the polyps or lesions are not removed during the exam. This technique consumes less time and removes the need for anesthesia or sedation for patients.
Colon Cancer Screening Guidelines
The American Cancer Society (ACS) has provided guidelines relating to colorectal screening. These are categorized as:
People at average risk: adults 45 and older
People at high risk: personal or family history of colorectal cancer, or other abnormalities associated with colon or rectum
For people at average risk, ACS recommends that folks in good health get regular colorectal screening through the age of 75. Add it to your list of suggested screenings for ages 65+.
For folks between the ages of 76 and 85, the need for colorectal screening depends on a person’s overall health, life expectancy, and prior screening history. People over the age of 85 don’t need to undergo colorectal screening.
People at higher risk need regular colorectal screenings before the age of 45. If colon cancer runs in your family, you should consult your health care provider for an effective screening schedule.
Before receiving a colonoscopy, you need to do a few things.
You need to drink a cleansing solution such as an enema or laxative for several days before performing the test. You’ll also need to avoid the consumption of stringy foods and foods with seeds.
You may also need to avoid certain medications before the procedure. Your doctor will use a sedative on you before the procedure begins. It’s short, running between 15 to 20 minutes.
If colorectal cancer runs in your family, get regular colonoscopies. If not, get them regularly when you reach 50. Your doctors can catch cancerous polyps before they spread, but only if you get your checkups.
If you are at high risk but haven’t started with your screenings, connect with your medical network today.