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Colorectal cancer is cancer that affects the colon and rectum, and usually the cancer is delineated into either colon or rectal cancer based on where it begins. Overall, though, both colon and rectal cancers have enough in common that it is worthwhile to group them together. On top of having common symptoms and outcomes, they are treated in similar ways.
While individual cancer stages have their own nuances, it is worthwhile remembering that there are four general cancer stages that the disease can progress through. They are generally divided by tumor size and behavior.
What patients need to realize is that while these tumor stages are slightly fluid, they are not the only times that cancer can be caught and treated. It is also possible to catch and treat many precancerous conditions to avert the full development of the disease.
While there are generally four stages of cancer development, the unique types of cancer that can affect different organs and tissues in the body make the precancerous conditions vary quite a bit from one another, and those precancerous stages of development are the vital stages that radiation oncologists try to target to minimize the impact that a possible cancer could have. To know what to expect from a colorectal cancer screening, you need to know what the radiation oncologist is looking for.
There are three general conditions that are examined as possible precancerous issues to deal with:
When your radiation oncologist finds any of these features in a screening, the protocol is to biopsy it, which allows for laboratory testing to determine whether or not there was any cancerous tissue in the sample. If there is, then the most common way forward is to weigh surgical treatment options.
Detecting and treating colorectal cancer is a complicated process that involves weighing patient symptoms and performing a series of tests to find any possible tumors. If you suspect you might have cancer, the first step is to see a primary care physician to discuss your symptoms. From there, your radiation oncologist is likely to refer you to a cancer detection and treatment specialist like those at Mat-Su Valley Cancer Center.
Radiation oncologists generally become concerned about the possibility of colorectal cancer when patients present with the following symptoms:
On their own, these symptoms could point to a number of conditions, including Crohn’s disease and IBS. That is why radiation oncologists then move on to the detection phase.
If your radiation oncologist suspects you might have colorectal cancer, then the following processes will be used to search for polyps, tumors, and other physical signs of the disease:
Surgery to remove the cancer is the primary treatment for colon cancer. In some cases, radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy are recommended to ensure the cancer does not return and to maximize cure. Our experienced oncologist also specializes in these additional forms of cancer:
Anyone can get colorectal cancer. Colon cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the third most common cause of cancer death in the United States. Approximately 140,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with colorectal cancer each year.
Very little hard data exists indicating that consumption of lactose products or that lactose intolerance is a risk factor for colorectal cancer. However, much new literature suggests that probiotic therapy is healthy and that the microflora of the colon may be altered by dietary dairy products so that the risk for colon cancer is lessened.
No, there is no known correlation. Colorectal cancer is at least as common in men as women, but women tend to have longer colons.
There is no association between stomach (gastric) cancer and colon cancer, except in individuals with Hereditary NonPolyposis Colorectal Cancer (HNPCC). This is a rare genetic syndrome in which affected individuals are at risk of colorectal cancer, as well as other cancers including gastric cancer, at a young age. Individuals with a strong family history of colorectal cancer, or colon cancer and endometrial (uterus) cancer, may have this syndrome and may warrant genetic testing and/or screening with colonoscopy. Family history is defined as three or more affected relatives spanning two generations with at least one affected relative under age 50. Patients with familial polyposis also have an increased risk of gastric cancer. A personal or family history of stomach cancer should not be confused with colorectal cancer.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a chronic functional problem of the gut, usually characterized by patterns of diarrhea and loose stools alternating with constipation. IBS may also be associated with abdominal cramping and pain. IBS is not associated with an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer. Patients with IBS have normal life expectancies but should follow the recommended screening guidelines appropriate to their population. If your IBS symptoms change from their usual behavior or regular pattern, or if you see blood in your stool, notify your physician and gastroenterologist.
In general, it is very uncommon for young people to get colorectal cancer if there is no family history and if the person is under 30. However, there are two well-recognized hereditary syndromes in which cancer can develop in young people. The first is Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP). This is a disease in which affected people develop hundreds to thousands of precancerous polyps in the colon. Unless the colon is removed, 100% of these patients will get colorectal cancer, usually by their late 30s. The disease is inherited directly from an affected parent (autosomal dominant inheritance), and the average age for polyp development in this syndrome is the mid-teens.
Mat-Su Valley Cancer Center is a specialty healthcare facility dedicated entirely to the treatment of many kinds of cancer. Contact us at 907-707-1333.