March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month…
- Colorectal Cancer is the 4th most common cancer in men and women in the United States.
- Colorectal Cancer is curable, especially when detected early: Over 90% of patients diagnosed with colorectal cancer that is confined to the colon and rectum are alive 5 years after diagnosis. Unfortunately, only 37% of all colorectal cancers are diagnosed at this stage.
- Typically, colorectal cancers develop from non-cancerous growths called polyps; polyps are abnormal growths arising from the lining of the large intestine (colon and rectum). Unfortunately, many polyps and early cancers fail to produce symptoms: polyps often do not bleed, hurt or cause a change in bowel habits. The most common symptoms of polyps are rectal bleeding and changes in bowel habits, such as constipation or diarrhea.
A colonoscopy. can help detect polyps before they become cancerous; a flexible lighted instrument is used to examine the entire large bowel; polyps can be identified and removed during the colonoscopy. If polyps are found and removed, the tissue is sent to a pathologist to determine if they are cancerous.
Colonoscopy Screenings are recommended for adults who are at least age 50, even if they don’t have symptoms.
Medicare and most commercial health plans cover all or most of the cost of a colonoscopy; contact your insurance company for more details.
Colorectal Cancer Risk Factors
Adults who are considered “high-risk” for colorectal cancer may require a colonoscopy more frequently and may need to be screened before age 50: Adults who have a personal history of polyps , inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or family history of colorectal cancer or polyps are considered “high risk”.
Colorectal Cancer Surgery
Fortunately, the majority of colon cancers can be treated with surgery: The Colorectal Surgeon removes the section of colon containing the tumor and then the two ends of the colon are reconnected. Additionally, the tissue next to the colon containing lymph nodes are removed because the lymph system is one of the ways cancer cells spread to other parts of the body. Pathologists carefully examine the removed tissue to determine the extent of the cancer in the colon wall and in the lymph nodes. If cancer is found in the lymph nodes, chemotherapy may be recommended after surgery.
Sometimes the cancer will be found to have already metastasized (spread to other organs) when it is first diagnosed. In such cases, an individual treatment plan is made after extensive testing. Surgery, radiation and chemotherapy may all be used where appropriate.