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Fight Colorectal Cancer: Understanding the Causes, Symptoms, and Risk Factors

Jun 25, 2024

Cancer Care

colorectal cancer

Colorectal cancer, one of the most common types of cancer, affects millions of people worldwide. It's the second most common cause of cancer deaths in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. As a serious and often life-threatening condition, it's crucial to understand its causes, symptoms, risk factors, and the ways it can be diagnosed and treated. Early detection significantly increases the chances of successful treatment, so awareness is key. This blog aims to provide a comprehensive overview of this cancer to help you stay informed and proactive about your health.

What Is Colorectal Cancer?

It begins in the colon or rectum, which are parts of the large intestine. The colon absorbs water and nutrients from food and stores waste, while the rectum is the final section before the waste is excreted. This cancer typically starts as polyps, which are abnormal growths on the inner wall of the colon or rectum. While not all polyps turn into cancer, certain types, especially adenomatous polyps, have a higher risk of becoming malignant over time.

Symptoms and Causes

Colorectal cancer often doesn't present symptoms in its early stages, making regular screenings vital. When symptoms do appear, they can include:

  • Changes in bowel habits (diarrhea, constipation, or stool consistency changes)
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in stool
  • Persistent abdominal discomfort (cramps, gas, pain)
  • Feeling that the bowel doesn't empty completely
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • These symptoms can also be caused by other conditions, so it's essential to consult a healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis.

The exact cause of colorectal cancer is unknown, but it typically results from genetic mutations that cause cells in the colon or rectum to grow uncontrollably. These mutations can be inherited or acquired due to environmental factors, lifestyle, and diet.

Conditions that Increase Colorectal Cancer Risk

Several conditions and factors can elevate the risk of developing colorectal cancer. They are:

  1. Age: Most cases occur in people over 50.
  2. Family History: A history of colorectal cancer or polyps in close relatives can increase risk.
  3. Inflammatory Intestinal Conditions: Chronic inflammatory diseases of the colon, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, heighten the risk.
  4. Inherited Syndromes: Genetic disorders like Lynch syndrome and familial adenomatous polyposis significantly increase the risk.
  5. Lifestyle Factors: Diets high in red or processed meats, a sedentary lifestyle, obesity, smoking, and heavy alcohol use can contribute to higher risk.

Diagnosis and Tests

Early detection of colorectal cancer is crucial for effective treatment. Several tests and procedures are available to diagnose it, such as:

  • Colonoscopy: It is the most effective screening tool, allowing doctors to view the entire colon and rectum and remove polyps during the procedure.
  • Flexible Sigmoidoscopy: Similar to a colonoscopy but limited to the lower part of the colon.
  • CT Colonography (Virtual Colonoscopy): Uses CT scans to produce images of the colon and rectum.
  • Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT): Detects hidden blood in stool samples, which can indicate cancer.
  • Stool DNA Test: Looks for specific DNA mutations associated with colorectal cancer in stool samples.

If any of these tests indicate cancer, further diagnostic tests such as biopsy, MRI, or CT scans may be necessary to determine the cancer's stage and spread.

Management and Treatments for Colorectal Cancer

The treatment depends on the stage of the disease, the location of the tumor, and the patient's overall health. Common treatments include:

  • Surgery: The most common treatment for localized cancer. The tumor and surrounding tissue are removed.
  • Radiation Therapy: Uses high-energy beams to kill cancer cells, often used before surgery to shrink tumors.
  • Chemotherapy: Involves drugs that kill cancer cells or stop them from growing, used in various stages of treatment.
  • Targeted Therapy: Uses drugs that target specific molecules involved in cancer growth.
  • Immunotherapy: Helps the body's immune system recognize and attack cancer cells.

Ways to Cope with Colorectal Cancer

Receiving a colorectal cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming, but several strategies can help manage the emotional and physical challenges. They are:

  • Seek Support: Join support groups or talk to a counselor to share experiences and emotions.
  • Stay Informed: Educate yourself about the disease and treatment options to make informed decisions.
  • Healthy Lifestyle: Maintain a balanced diet, exercise regularly, and avoid smoking and excessive alcohol.
  • Follow-Up Care: Regular check-ups are crucial to monitor health and catch any recurrence early.
  • Stress Management: Practice relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises.

When to Call a Doctor?

It's essential to contact a healthcare provider if you experience any symptoms associated with colorectal cancer, such as persistent changes in bowel habits, unexplained weight loss, blood in the stool, or ongoing abdominal pain. Additionally, if you have a family history of colorectal cancer or polyps, discuss with your doctor about starting screenings earlier than the general recommendation of age 50.

Avail Comprehensive Care and Support for Colorectal Cancer Treatment with Us

Early detection and proactive management can significantly impact the outcomes of colorectal cancer. If you're over 50 or have risk factors, schedule a screening today. Chesapeake Oncology Hematology Associates is here to provide comprehensive care and support. Contact us to learn more about prevention, diagnosis, and treatment options. Your health is our priority—let's fight colorectal cancer together.

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