Understanding Colorectal Cancer

Colon Cancer AwarenessMarch is colorectal cancer awareness month. For those who aren’t familiar with this cancer type, it encompasses cancers that begin in either the colon or the rectum.

The National Cancer Institute identifies colorectal cancer as the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the US. The majority of these deaths are preventable with screening and early detection, and according to the American Cancer Society, the number of colorectal cancer cases has gone down due mainly to the increase in early detection of the disease through screening.

Colorectal Cancer Risk Factors

Although colorectal cancer can affect anyone, there are certain people at higher risk of developing this disease. Colorectal cancer has a higher incidence in men as compared to women and in African Americans as compared to Caucasians. The incidence of colorectal cancer increases with age with 90 percent of new cases occurring in patients who are 50 years or older. There is a familial predisposition to development of colorectal cancer. About 20 percent of patients with colorectal cancer have a close relative with the same disease.

Colorectal Cancer Prognosis

The main thing determining the long-term outcome for patients with colorectal cancer is the stage of the disease at diagnosis. The stage is determined by the extent of spread of the tumor. Patients with early stage cancer (disease localized to the colon) have an excellent outcome with a high likelihood of long-term survival. On the other hand, patients diagnosed with advanced stage disease (disease involving other organs) have a lower chance of long-term survival. This is the reason why early diagnosis through screening is essential for improving the outcome of this disease.

Colorectal Cancer Screening & Diagnosis

Candidates for screening include people over the age of 50, people with a family history of colon cancer, and people with predisposing medical conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease. Several methods have been used for screening for colorectal cancer. These include testing the stool for blood, direct visualization of the colon using a scope (colonoscopy) or specialized scans (virtual colonoscopy).

Colorectal Cancer Treatment

The most promising research into treating colorectal cancers is being done in the areas of personalized medicine and targeted therapies. In personalized medicine, researchers are trying to identify unique characteristics of tumors that make them vulnerable or resistant to known drugs. This approach would allow for therapy that is tailored for a specific patient based on the unique characteristics of the cancer in that individual. In targeted therapies, investigators are trying to find new drugs that are more selectively targeted to the cancer cells. This approach allows for more effective therapies with fewer side effects.

Dr. El-Rayes, Colon Cancer SpecialistAbout Dr. El-Rayes

Dr. Bassel El-Rayes joined Emory University in September 2009 as the director of the GI Oncology program. He is currently the Associate Cancer Center Director for Clinical Research at Winship Cancer Institute. Dr. El-Rayes completed his medical school at the American University of Beirut (AUB). He subsequently joined the internal medicine residency and then the hematology oncology fellowship at Wayne State University. He joined faculty as an Assistant Professor in the area of GI oncology. During this time, he was involved in translational research focused on GI cancer with special focus on pancreatic and colorectal cancer. In the clinical research, Dr. El-Rayes is focused on drug development and multidisciplinary therapy treatments in patients with early stage or advanced GI cancer

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