An Intro to Colorectal Cancer Part I: Risk Factors, Symptoms & Diagnosis

Colorectal Cancer Awareness MonthMarch is colorectal cancer month, and an article in the New York Times highlights the important role colonoscopies have played in reducing deaths from colorectal cancer. The study included patients tracked over 20 years after receiving a colonoscopy, which lead to the detection and removal of precancerous polyps, known as adenomatous polyps. Findings from the study show that the combination of a colonoscopy and polyp(s) removal lowered the colorectal death rate by 53 percent. While not all polyps turn into cancer, evidence shows that early detection and intervention are keys to survival. In the spirit of helping raise awareness around Colon Cancer and the importance of colonoscopies as a diagnostic and preventive tool, below you’ll find some helpful resources and important information about colorectal cancer.

Colorectal Cancer Statistics

According to the American Cancer Society, “excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States.” That means in 2012, estimates for the number of colorectal cancer cases that will be diagnosed in the United States are:

  • 103,170 new cases of colon cancer
  • 40,290 new cases of rectal cancer

But, if detected early enough, colorectal cancer is curable. So, how is colorectal cancer detected?

Colorectal Cancer Diagnosis

According to the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University, “colorectal cancer usually starts in the innermost layer of the lining and slowly progresses through the other layers.”  There are several ways of diagnosing colorectal cancer, but the most popular method is a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy is a special type of cancer screening because it allows doctors to screen and intervene at the same time.

During a colonoscopy, the doctor will use a colonoscope, which is a flexible, lighted tube with a small video camera on the end. They use this instrument to look at the entire length of the colon and rectum. If the doctor finds abnormalities such as polyps or growths, he or she can remove them right away while patients are under sedation. Special instruments can be passed through the colonoscope to remove the suspicious looking areas before they have the chance to turn into cancer.

Colon Cancer Web Chat

According to Roberd Bostick, MD, MPH and a professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health, “most of the time, a colonoscopy is the most effective means for diagnosing [colorectal cancer].Certainly, if a person were to have symptoms that would be suggestive of colon cancer, then those symptoms might precipitate them wanting to have a diagnostic test, like a colonoscopy.”

For a full list of symptoms and risk factors of colorectal cancer, please see below. Watch the full video discussion with Roberd Bostick, MD, MPH. Also, bring your additional questions to Dr. Bassel El-Reyes and Dr. Roberd Bostick’s colon cancer chat on March 20th (UPDATE – CHAT TRANSCRIPT).

Colorectal Cancer Symptoms

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, contact your doctor to be properly diagnosed and treated. It’s important to note that these symptoms may not necessarily be a result of colorectal cancer. Other health problems can produce similar symptoms, which is why it is important to contact your physician if you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed below:

  • Change in bowel habits:
    • Diarrhea or constipation
    • Feeling that your bowel does not empty completely
    • Finding blood (either bright red or very dark) in your stool
    • Finding your stools are narrower than usual
  • Frequent gas pains or cramps, or feeling full or bloated
  • Loss of weight for no apparent reason
  • Feeling very tired all the time
  • Nausea or vomiting

Colorectal Cancer Risk Factors

The main risk factors for colorectal cancer are uncontrollable. They are heredity, family history and personal medical history. Other risk factors include:

  • Presence of an inflammatory bowel disease (i.e. Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, etc.)
  • Diabetes
  • Other controllable factors
    • Obesity
    • Red meat consumption
    • Processed meat consumption
    • Smoking
    • Alcohol consumption

Remember, early detection is the key to providing the best chance for a cure. It is important to contact your physician if you are experiencing symptoms or are at risk for colorectal cancer.  If your physician feels it’s appropriate, a screening test, such as a colonoscopy, will most likely be recommended to rule out the possibility of cancer.

With all this information, what can you do to stay healthy? Take action and make sure you are getting regularly screened! While a colonoscopy is bound to not be the most pleasant experience, it could potentially save your life by detecting colorectal cancer early when the disease is easier to cure.  If you are interested in learning more about colorectal cancer, make sure to check out the chat transcript the colorectal cancer chat.

Contact us for more information about our colorectal cancer treatment programs: 404-778-1900 or request an appointment online.

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