Colorectal Cancer

Definition
Colorectal cancer is a relatively common malignancy that affects approximately 103,000 people in the United States each year, making it the fourth most common cancer in men and women. Generally speaking, colorectal cancer can be prevented through routine screenings or genetic testing. When caught early, colorectal cancer usually responds well to treatment. A combination of treatment techniques including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy may be administered to offer a higher rate of survival.   

Causes
Although there is no known cause of colorectal cancer, there are a number of risk factors that may increase a person’s risk of developing the disease. Please see Genetics and Colorectal Cancer for more information about causes of colorectal cancer.

Risk Factors
Risk factors that increase the likelihood of colorectal cancer include being over 50 years of age, eating a diet high in fat and low in calcium, folate, and fiber, having colorectal polyps, cigarette smoking, having a personal or family history of colorectal cancer, or having an inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. Please see Genetics and Colorectal Cancer for more information about risk factors associated with colorectal cancer.

Symptoms
During the early stages of colorectal cancer, most patients do not experience symptoms. Having said that, it’s imperative patients do not wait until symptoms develop to see their doctor – for colorectal cancer, early detection through regular screenings is key. Additionally, patients with a family history of colorectal cancer, or those over the age of 50, should remain vigilant in receiving routine colorectal screenings. Patients with an advanced form of colorectal cancer may experience the following symptoms:

  • Change in bowel movements, i.e. diarrhea, constipation, etc.
  • Blood in stool
  • Abdominal discomfort, i.e. cramps, gas, pain, etc.
  • Weight loss
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Nausea or vomiting

Treatments
Depending on the stage of colorectal cancer, treatment may include a combination of approaches including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Surgery is typically advised to reduce the risk of tumor advancement or recurrence. A colon and rectal surgeon may recommend removing a portion of the colon to either render the patient disease-free or prevent the need for further treatment. Following surgery, chemotherapy may be recommended to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy is often reserved for patients with recurrent or aggressive forms of colorectal cancer. Each case of colorectal cancer is unique and will require a personalized treatment approach. 

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