Colorectal cancer is a type of cancer that targets the colon or rectum. Colorectal cancer has become rampant now in men and women, and has become the second most deadly form of cancer, causing the maximum number of deaths. The risk of this fatal disease increases as you age.
Both the colon and rectum are present in the large intestine. The colon functions in our digestive system by absorbing nutrients and water from food and converting them into stool and storing them. The formed stool is then expelled out of the body via the rectum.
Colo-rectal cancers start forming in the inner wall cells of the colon or rectum that produce and release mucus. Colorectal cancer begins by the formation of a polyp, which is an abnormal growth of cells. Polyps may be benign or malignant. Before the polyp takes a cancerous form and spreads all over the body, it needs to be located and taken out of the body.
Colo-rectal cancer symptoms may be similar to that of various other diseases like microbial infection, irritable bowel syndrome, hemorrhoids, inflammatory bowel disease, etc. Some of the symptoms which give you a red flag to get yourself diagnosed are listed below:
- Abnormal bowel symptoms including acute diarrhea or constipation, which persist over normal recovery period.
- Constant feeling of bowel pressure which last even after stool discharge.
- Blood in stool
- Dark stool
- Rectal bleeding
- Abdominal cramps
- General weakness or fatigue
- Drastic weight loss
In most cases, the symptoms in colon cancer appear only after the cancer has spread and grown fully. Hence, it is wise to get yourself screened for colorectal cancer from time to time (especially recommended for people above 50). However, if you have a family history of colorectal cancer, your genetic susceptibility to get this disease increases. Then you should be extra cautious and undergo screening at a much younger age. Your family doctor will suggest the right screening procedures that suit you.
Benign polyps (pre-cancerous growths) if present, can be detected in initial screening procedures and help prevent some colon cancers by their subsequent removal. Colon cancer if diagnosed in its early stages increases the survival chances by 90%. If due to ignorance the cancer is allowed to spread outside the colon or rectum, the survival chances get lowered.
When the initial screening detects a chance of cancerous growth, the doctor may further recommend advanced tests like colonoscopy, blood tests, x-ray, CT scan, etc., to confirm on the colorectal cancer.
When the diagnosis and biopsy point towards colon cancer, the subsequent treatment primarily depends on the stage of the cancer. Treatment intensity ranges from radiation therapy to surgical colostomy. Initial localized cancer stages need lesser intervention than advanced stages in which the cancer has spread beyond the colon.
Surgery can be a solution; where in small tumors can be easily removed. Chemotherapy sessions are followed post a successful surgery, to get rid of the remnant cancerous cells. Drugs that are commonly used in the chemotherapy of colon cancer are Oxaliplatin, Irinotecan, 5-fluorouracil, Capacitabine, etc.
Advanced colo-rectal cancers may prompt the removal of certain affected sections of the large intestine, to prevent further spread of the disease. After removal of parts of the colon, the remaining part of the colon can still be reconnected to the rectum. A colostomy is required only after the cancer has spread to the rectal areas. In colostomy, an opening (stoma) created in the abdomen with the attachment of a colostomy bag helps in stool collection, which bypasses the rectum altogether.
Colorectal cancer can be a severe disease with lasting consequences. If you have any reason to believe you may have some symptoms of the condition, do consult a doctor immediately.