Colorectal Cancer

What Is Colorectal Cancer?

Colorectal cancer is a cancer that starts in the colon or the rectum. These cancers can also be named colon cancer or rectal cancer, depending on where they start. Colon cancer and rectal cancer are often grouped together because they have many features in common.

Cancer starts when cells in the body begin to grow out of control. Cells in nearly any part of the body can become cancer, and can spread to other areas of the body.

Colorectal Cancer: Types & Stages

Most colorectal cancers begin as a growth on the inner lining of the colon or rectum called a polyp. Some types of polyps can change into cancer over the course of several years, but not all polyps become cancer. The chance of changing into a cancer depends on the kind of polyp. The 2 main types of polyps are:

  • Adenomatous polyps (adenomas):These polyps sometimes change into cancer. Because of this, adenomas are called a pre­cancerous condition.
  • Hyperplastic polyps and inflammatory polyps:These polyps are more common, but in general they are not pre­cancerous.

Dysplasia, another pre­cancerous condition, is an area in a polyp or in the lining of the colon or rectum where the cells look abnormal (but not like true cancer cells).

If cancer forms in a polyp, it can eventually begin to grow into the wall of the colon or rectum

The wall of the colon and rectum is made up of several layers. Colorectal cancer starts in the innermost layer (the mucosa) and can grow through some or all of the other layers. When cancer cells are in the wall, they can then grow into blood vessels or lymph vessels (tiny channels that carry away waste and fluid). From there, they can travel to nearby lymph nodes or to distant parts of the body.

The stage (extent of spread) of a colorectal cancer depends on how deeply it grows into the wall and if it has spread outside the colon or rectum

Colorectal Cancer – Detection & Treatment

Diagnosing Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer for both men and women, and over 100,000 people are diagnosed with colorectal cancer every year. The most significant risk factor for colorectal cancer is age, as 90% of cases occur in patients over 50. That said, colorectal cancer can develop at any age, and other risk factors include a diet full of red meat and low in fruits and vegetables, obesity or physical inactivity, excessive smoking and drinking, or a previous history of colorectal cancer, colon polyps, ulcerative colitis, or Crohn’s Disease. There are no distinctive symptoms of colorectal cancer, but a patient may experience any of the following:

  • General abdominal discomfort
  • Bloating
  • Alternating periods of diarrhea and constipation
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in stool
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Chronic anemia
  • Unexplained fatigue

Screening Methods for Colorectal Cancer

Most cases of colorectal cancer are found through routine screenings. We may use any of the following tests to determine if colorectal cancer is present:

  • A routine physical with a digital rectum exam (DRE)
  • Stool tests
  • A sigmoidoscopy, which uses a thin, lighted tube to check the sigmoid colon for polyps or abnormal growths
  • A double-contrast barium enema, which allows x-rays to map the inside of the bowel
  • A colonoscopy, which involves using a long, lighted tube to examine the entirety of the colon for polyps or other abnormal areas

If an exam finds polyps or other abnormal areas, we’ll perform a biopsy, in which we remove a small piece of tissue from the abnormal area and examine it in a lab. If the biopsy shows colorectal cancer is present, we’ll also need to perform other tests to determine if the cancer has spread.

Treatment Options for Colorectal Cancer

In general, we’ll normally use surgical methods to treat cancers of the colon or rectum. If the cancer hasn’t metastasized (spread), surgery may be enough to treat the cancer on its own, but if it has spread, treatment will require other methods as well. These other treatments generally include chemotherapy and radiation therapy, which may be given separately or together either before or after the surgery. Your treatment method will depend on the stage of the cancer, the size and location of the tumor, and your general health conditions.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is an advanced form of cancer treatment that uses controlled, precisely-measured doses of radiation (light energy) on a tumor to prevent the spread of cancer, control the growth of a tumor, cure the cancer itself, or to ease certain symptoms. Radiation therapy prevents cancer cells from multiplying, effectively stopping the spread of a tumor. Once the cancer cells die off, they’re eliminated naturally by the body. If your doctor prescribes you with radiation therapy, you’ll receive radiation treatments five days a week for about 6 weeks, although the exact length of treatment will vary depending on your condition. At OC CyberKnife, we use one of the most advanced, effective radiation therapy systems in the world, helping to maximize the effectiveness of your treatment while minimizing side effects.

Potential Side Effects

Most patients experience few or no side effects, but radiation therapy for colorectal cancer may come with any of the following side effects:

  • Increased frequency of bowel movements
  • Frequent urination
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Rectal pressure or discomfort
  • Skin irritation
  • A burning sensation while urinating
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue

Side effects are generally controllable and fade after treatment is completed. We’ll work with you to help you manage side effects during your treatment.

Self-Care During Treatment

While CyberKnife is one of the most powerful cancer treatments in the world, cancer treatment of any kind can be draining on a mental and physical level. It’s important to take special care of yourself during treatment by doing things like:

  • Getting enough rest
  • Following your doctor’s instructions
  • Eating a healthy & well-balanced diet
  • Take special care of skin exposed to radiation
  • Seeking emotional support from family, friends, and cancer support groups

Contact Your Orange County Cancer Treatment Center

At OC CyberKnife, our mission is to help each one of our patients overcome cancer and reclaim a healthy, vibrant life. If you or a loved one feel you may be suffering from colorectal cancer or have recently been diagnosed, take heart: there is hope and we are here to help. Feel free to call us at 714.962.7100 with any questions, or if you’d like to schedule a consultation, just reach out to us at our contact page. We can’t wait to hear from you, and we look forward to helping you eliminate your cancer and achieve total health and wellbeing

Colorectal Cancer: FAQs

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 well­recognized 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 mid­teens.

Answer :

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. Nearly 137,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with colorectal cancer each year and over 50,000 die. It is overall the third most common cause of cancer death in the U.S., behind lung cancer and breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men. When men and women are considered separately, colorectal cancer is the third most common cause of cancer death in either sex.

Answer :

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.

Answer :

No, there is no known correlation. Colorectal cancer is at least as common in men as women, but women tend to have longer colons.

Answer :

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.

Answer :

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.

Answer :

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 well­recognized 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 mid­teens.