Colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers with an incidence of 1 in 3000 people. Approximately 130,000 Americans were diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 1998, half of them women.
The following are risk factors for colorectal cancer:
- Age – most people who develop colorectal cancer are over the age of 50
- History of Polyps – polyps are abnormal growths; they can develop in the colon and rectum, and most are benign. The majority of colon and rectal cancers develop in polyps. Some families are genetically predisposed to developing polyps which increases colorectal cancer risk.
- Personal History – women with a history of breast, ovarian or uterine cancer are at increased risk of developing colon cancer; also, women with a history of colitis due to Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis also are at increased risk of colorectal cancer.
- Family History – Women with a family (parents, siblings or children) history of colorectal cancer have an increased risk of developing this cancer. One type of genetically related colorectal cancer, Lynch syndrome, or, non-polyp related colorectal cancer also places women at a higher risk of cancer of the endometrium and ovaries.
Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer
- Bleeding from your rectum
- Blood in your stool or in the toilet after you have had a bowel movement
- Changes in your stool – constipation or diarrhea lasting several weeks
- Cramping or pain in your lower abdomen
- A feeling of pain or urge to have a bowel movement even when there is no need to have one
- Weakness and/or fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
Prevention and Screening Measures
Early detection through routine screening helps identify colorectal cancer early and offers more effective treatment options. Based on your age and health history, your health care provider will discuss how often you should undergo colorectal cancer screenings. If no personal or family history places you at higher risk for colorectal cancer, regular colorectal screenings will begin after age 50.
If you have a strong family history of hereditary colorectal cancer, your physician may recommend genetic testing for Lynch syndrome. Results of this test will help your provider develop a regular screening plan to assure earlier detection of colorectal cancer.
For the majority of patients, early screening includes a digital rectal exam with fecal occult blood testing. This exam is performed to identify any growths and a sample is collected and screened for blood hidden in stool. An occult test kit often is sent home with you to follow up on testing performed in the office.
Colonoscopy is a test that examines the entire colon using a lighted colonoscope. Pre-cancerous and cancerous growths can be identified, removed or biopsied, and samples sent to a lab for further testing. Biopsy results typically are available within one week after the procedure.
Sigmoidoscopy is a test that examines the lower colon and rectum using a lighted sigmoidoscope. Like colonoscopy, precancerous and cancerous growths can be identified, removed or biopsied and tested. As this test is limited to the lower colon and rectum it may be offered for specific symptoms, rather than routine screening.
If any of the screening tests are positive, you would need a follow up appointment with additional testing.
Treatment Options for Colorectal Cancer
Surgery is the most common treatment, followed by chemotherapy for patients in the later stages of cancer. If you are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, you will be referred to team of specialists who will develop a plan of care that will consider the type and location of the cancer, treatment options, and other medical conditions you may have.