What is colon cancer? What are the symptoms? Is there treatment available? Find the answers to these and other questions in this compressive guide.
Colorectal cancer begins in either the colon or the rectum. Depending on where they start, these cancers are sometimes known as colon cancer or rectal cancer. It appears when cancerous growths in the colon or rectum begin to multiply. As a result of their many similarities, colon and rectal cancer are frequently lumped together.
How does colorectal cancer start?
Typically, all of the cells in the body split, grow, and then die to keep the body healthy and well-functioning. This can spiral out of control at times. Even after they should have died, cells continue to grow and divide.
Colorectal cancer can develop if the cells that line the colon and rectum multiply unchecked.
Polyps in the colon or rectum
The majority of colorectal cancers begin as a tumor on the inner lining of the colon or rectum. Polyps are the medical term for these abnormal growths in the body.
Some polyps can progress to cancer over time ( many years), although not all polyps progress to cancer in the same manner. The likelihood of a polyp developing into cancer is dependent on the type of polyp in question. Polyps can be classified into several categories. They include;
- Adenomatous polyps (adenomas): These polyps can become cancerous if they are not treated promptly. As a result, adenomas are often referred to as precancerous conditions. Adenomas are classified into three types: tubular, villous, and tubulovillous.
- Hyperplastic polyps and inflammatory polyps are more common; however, they are not cancerous in the first stages of development. Large hyperplastic polyps (usually greater than 1 cm in diameter) may necessitate more frequent colonoscopies for screening for colorectal cancer.
- Sessile serrated polyps (SSP) and traditional serrated adenomas (TSA) are frequently treated like adenomas because of their increased risk of developing colorectal cancer.
Additionally, a polyp’s likelihood of containing cancer or an individual’s chance of acquiring colon cancer might increase if:
- A polyp over 1 cm in diameter is discovered.
- More than three polyps are found.
How does colorectal cancer spread?
If cancer develops in a polyp, it can spread into the colon or rectum wall over time. The colon and rectum’s walls are made up of multiple layers, and Colorectal cancer begins in the innermost layer called the mucosa and can spread to any or all subsequent layers.
When cancer cells invade the wall, they can spread to the bloodstream or lymphatic system, both of which convey waste and fluid away from the body. They can then spread to neighboring lymph nodes or distant areas of the body.
Types of cancer in the colon and rectum
The most prevalent kind of colorectal cancer is adenocarcinomas, which include a wide range of tumors. These tumors begin in the cells that produce mucus, which lubricates the inside of the colon and rectum. Carcinoid tumors, gastrointestinal stromal tumors, and colorectal lymphoma are among the other varieties.
The following is a list of some of the most common types of colon and rectum cancer:
- Carcinoid tumors: Carcinoids are tumors that begin in special hormone-producing cells in the intestine. In many cases, they don’t show any symptoms, and surgery is the most common type of treatment.
- Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs): At first, they may appear benign (noncancerous), but many will develop into cancer if left untreated. The best gastroenterologists in Dubai advise surgical removal as a treatment option if the tumor hasn’t spread to other organs.
- Lymphomas: Lymphoma is cancer that often begins in a lymph node, a structure in the body that functions to fight off infections. In other cases, it might also start in the rectum or colon.
- Sarcomas: can begin in the blood vessels, muscle layers, other connective tissues of the colon and rectum’s wall, and other organs. Colon or rectal sarcomas are pretty uncommon.
Colorectal cancer risk factors
A risk factor is defined as anything that enhances a person’s likelihood of developing cancer. Even though risk factors significantly impact the likelihood of developing cancer, they do not directly cause cancer.
While some people with many risk factors will never get cancer, others with no known risk factors will develop the disease anyway. Understanding your risk factors and discussing them with your doctor may assist you in making better-informed lifestyle and healthcare decisions.
The exact cause of colorectal cancer is generally unknown. The following factors, on the other hand, may increase a person’s risk of developing colorectal cancer:
- Age: As people get older, their risk of developing colorectal cancer increases. On average, at 68 years old, men get diagnosed with colon cancer, while it’s 72 years old for women.
- Family history: A person’s chance of having colorectal cancer roughly doubles if they have a family history of the disease. In families whose first-degree relatives (parents, sisters, brothers, etc.) have had colorectal cancer and many other family members (grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, etc.), colorectal cancer is more likely to run in the family.
- IBD (Irritable Bowel Disease). Chronic inflammation of the large intestine can occur in people with IBD, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. It raises the likelihood of developing colorectal cancer.
- Personal experience with certain types of cancer: People who have a personal history of colorectal cancer or have been diagnosed with ovarian or uterine cancer are more likely to acquire colorectal cancer.
- Obesity and lack of exercise: People who live a sedentary lifestyle, which includes no regular exercise and plenty of sitting, and those who are overweight or obese, are at a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer. Obesity increases the risk of colon and rectal cancer in men and women alike, but the association appears to be stronger in men.
- Nutrition: Existing data consistently linked an increased risk of the disease to consuming more red meat. A diet strong in red meats (such as beef, pork, or liver) and processed meats increases your chance of developing colorectal cancer.
- Smoking: Tobacco users have a higher risk of developing and dying from colorectal cancer than non-smokers. Lung cancer is one of the many cancers associated with smoking, but it’s not the only one.
Detection and diagnosis
How to find out if you have colorectal cancer
Colorectal cancer diagnosis uses a variety of assays. When selecting a diagnostic test, your doctor may take variables such as the cancer type suspected, symptoms and signs, age, medical history, family history, and even outcomes of previous medical tests.
The following tests, in addition to a medical assessment, may be used to detect colorectal cancer:
- Colonoscopy: Colonoscopy allows the doctor to examine the whole rectum and colon while the patient is anesthetized. Upon detection of colorectal cancer, a comprehensive diagnosis that precisely identifies cancer’s location and growth may be impossible to get until the tumor is removed through surgery.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): MRI creates detailed internal body images using magnetic fields that can determine the size of the tumor. Before the scan, the patient receives a special dye called a contrast medium to help improve the clarity of the image.
- Tumor biomarker analysis: Your doctor may advise you to undertake laboratory testing on a tumor sample to discover specific genes, proteins, and other tumor-specific components. The results of these tests can help you decide on a medication regimen.
- Biopsy: To perform a biopsy, a small tissue sample is removed and examined under a microscope. Other tests may indicate the presence of cancer, but only a biopsy will provide conclusive proof that the patient has colon cancer.
- Blood tests: A common complication of colorectal cancer is hemorrhage into the large intestine or rectum, leading to anemia. When the total number of red blood cells in the blood drops below a certain level, it may indicate bleeding.
- Computed tomography (CT) Scan: A CT scan uses x-rays captured from various angles to create images of the inside of the body. It determines if colon cancer has progressed to the lungs, liver, or other patients’ organs.
- Ultrasound: To determine if cancer has spread throughout the body, doctors employ ultrasound imaging, which creates a picture of the organs using sound waves. Endorectal ultrasonography determines how far cancer has spread in the rectum and helps with treatment planning.
- Positron emission tomography (PET) Scan: PET scans involve injecting the patient with minimal amounts of radioactive sugar material. Cells that consume a lot of energy take up this sugar, and cancer consumes a more significant amount of radioactive material since it is a vigorous energy consumer. Following that, a scanner picks up on this material, which generates internal imaging.
What are the symptoms of colorectal cancer?
Colon cancer may not present itself immediately away, but you may experience one or more of the following signs and symptoms if it is detected. In some cases, symptoms like those listed below may result from anything other than cancer. They include:
- A shift in bowel habits
- Rectal bleeding accompanied by vivid red blood.
- Blood in the stool that is bright crimson or very dark
- Cramping or soreness in the abdomen (belly)
- Unintentional weight loss
- Weakness and exhaustion
- Abdominal discomfort, including regular gas sensations, bloating, fullness,
- Stools that appear narrower or thinner than usual
Several illnesses other than colorectal cancer can produce many of these symptoms, including infection, hemorrhoids, or IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).
Even so, if you experience any of these symptoms, gastroenterologists in Dubai recommend that you should seek medical attention as soon as possible. It helps in identifying and addressing the underlying factors immediately.
Stages and prognosis
Using staging, doctors can determine whether cancer has migrated outside of the original site and if that’s the case, where it has spread. In other words, the classification of cancer is according to its stage and it aids in figuring out the severity of the malignancy and the best course of action to take.
Doctors often get the diagnosis through diagnostic testing. Hence, staging may not be complete until the doctors complete all tests. A doctor can better propose treatment based on the patient’s stage and estimate their prognosis or possible recovery. Different forms of cancer have different stages, which have different ways of being described.
Within a stage, an earlier letter indicates a lower stage. Cancers at the same stage tend to have a similar prognosis and are treated similarly, despite each person’s unique experience.
Stage 0 colorectal cancer is the earliest stage, and stage 4 is the most advanced:
- Stage 0. Also referred to as carcinoma in situ, this stage involves abnormal cells only in the colon or rectum’s inner lining.
- Stage 1. There is evidence that cancer has spread from the colon or rectum to the muscle layer, and it has not spread to any neighboring lymph nodes or other regions of the body.
- Stage 2. The lymph nodes are undamaged by cancer that has progressed through the colon, rectum walls, or surrounding tissues.
- Stage 3. No other organs or tissues have been affected by cancer’s invasion into lymph nodes.
- Stage 4. Cancer has spread to other distant organs, such as the liver or lungs.
Can you prevent Colorectal Cancer?
Various circumstances cause different forms of cancer. Colon cancer causes are still undergoing investigation, as are prevention methods. Unfortunately, we cannot prevent colorectal cancer entirely, but we can reduce the risks.
The following factors may reduce a person’s risk of developing colorectal cancer:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) and aspirin: According to some research, aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may minimize the development of polyps in patients with a history of colorectal cancer or polyps. However, long-term usage of NSAIDs can result in serious adverse effects such as stomach lining bleeding and blood clots that lead to a stroke or heart attack.
- Eat a balanced diet: Colorectal cancer risk can be lowered by eating enough fruits and vegetables and avoiding red meat. Taking calcium and vitamin D supplements may help prevent colorectal cancer, according to research.
- Quit smoking: Long-term smoking is often related to a higher risk of getting colorectal cancer and various other cancers and health issues. In addition to lowering your chance of colorectal cancer, quitting smoking may also lessen your risk of many different types of cancers, such as lung cancer.
- Regular exercise: So far, empirical evidence supports the impact of regular exercise on the risk of developing colorectal cancer.
What are the colorectal cancer treatment options?
It is difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of colorectal cancer because there are so many variables involved. What stage you are in and how well you are doing overall will assist your doctor in determining the best course of action for treating your colorectal cancer.
Your surgeon may be able to remove cancerous polyps during surgery if you have colorectal cancer that is still in its early stages. There is a good chance that the polyp will not get attached to the gut wall if it is still in its early stages.
Your surgeon may have to remove part of your colon or rectal wall, as well as any nearby lymph nodes if your cancer has spread into your gut walls. If possible, your surgeon will attempt to reconnect the remaining healthy piece of your colon to your rectum.
If this isn’t an option, they may have to resort to a colostomy procedure instead. This procedure entails making a hole in the abdominal wall to allow for the discharge of waste. A colostomy can be both temporary and permanent.
During chemotherapy, patients are given medications in an attempt to eradicate cancerous cells. Tumor growth can be slowed or stopped by chemotherapy.
Before and after surgery, radiation targets and destroys cancerous cells with an intense energy beam comparable to that used in X-rays.
What are the long-term prospects?
A large percentage of people who have had colorectal cancer go on to lead everyday lives. Today, treatments are effective, but you may need a combination of therapies (surgery, chemotherapy, radiation) to maximize your chances of beating cancer once and for all.
Never hesitate to inform your doctor if something changes in your health or well-being. As a result, your doctor will be in a better position to determine whether or not you require any extra screening tests or treatment.
Still having more questions? No worries. You can get in touch with one of the best gastroenterologists in Dubai who can help you out with any further concerns, including the specific treatment, tests, and after-care to look out for.