Colorectal cancerColorectal cancer (also known as colon cancer or bowel cancer) is the 6th common cause of cancer deaths in India. It develops due to overgrowth of cells lining the colon and the rectum. The colon is a 5 feet long twisted tube that helps in the absorption of water and various nutrients from the food you eat, whereas the end portion (about 6 inches) of the digestive tract that serves as a passage for excretion of stool is called the rectum. Colorectal cancer develops when cancerous tumours originate from the linings of colon and rectum. These tumours can enlarge with time and then invade the colon completely. 

What causes colorectal cancer?

In most cases of colorectal cancer, the actual cause is not found. But certain risk factors like smoking, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease or Chron’s disease and family history of cancer can increase the chances of colon cancer. Here are some tips to prevent cancer.

What are the symptoms?

Sometimes, colorectal cancer can develop without showing any symptoms. With progressive invasion of tumours, the following symptoms can be seen:

  • Chronic stomach cramps and pain
  • Change in bowel movements. Diarrhoea and constipation is common
  • Presence of blood in the stool or change in the colour of stools
  • A feeling of incomplete bowel movement
  • Feeling of fullness and bloating
  • Tiredness and nausea
  • Weight loss 

Read more about symptoms of cancer you shouldn’t ignore

Is colorectal cancer fatal?

Not all colorectal cancers are fatal. Early detection and treatment can lead to an excellent outcome in colorectal cancer patients. In fact, more than 60 percent of cases of colorectal can be cured completely if they are detected at an early stage. Therefore, initial symptoms should not be ignored. If you have a family history of cancer, you should regularly screen yourself. Otherwise, screening should be initiated soon after the age of 50 years.

How is it diagnosed?

Colonoscopy is commonly used to detect colon cancers or precancerous polyps/tumours. A thin tube is inserted through the rectal opening. Sigmoidoscopy is another scope examination which is used to detect cancer in the lowest part of the colon. It is similar to colonoscopy but it uses a smaller tube than the one used in colonoscopy. For determining the stage of cancer, a CT scan or MRI scan is taken to check whether the cancer has spread to other organs.

What are the treatment options for colorectal cancer

  1. Surgery: Cancerous tumours in the colon can be safely removed with surgery. The type of surgery to be performed depends on the size and the location of the tumour. Partial colectomy is a surgical procedure in which a part of the colon or the rectum containing the tumour is taken out along with a surrounding healthy tissue which is reconnected later. Sometimes, a colostomy is performed in which the healthy end of the large intestine is removed. 
  2. Chemotherapy: It is usually initiated after the colon tumour is surgically removed in order to prevent recurring tumours. A combination of anticancer drugs may be administered orally or directly into the bloodstream. Read more about chemotherapy and its side-effects.
  3. Radiotherapy: High-energy rays are used to kill cancer cells and stop their growth. It is sometimes used before performing a surgery to shrink the size of the tumour. 

References:

  • 100 Questions & Answers About Colorectal Cancer By David Bub, Susannah Rose, Douglas Wong
  • Centre for Disease Control and Prevention

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