What is colorectal cancer?
Colorectal cancer is cancer of the large intestine; the colon is the large intestine and the rectum is the last several inches of the colon. The majority of colorectal cancer begins as one or more benign colon polyps, which become malignant over time. Colorectal cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer in the US. Fortunately, it is also one of the most preventable; when detected early, more than 90% of patients can be cured.
How Can Colorectal Cancer Detected?
Detection of colorectal cancer relies mainly upon a painless procedure called a colonoscopy. Once sedated, a thin, flexible, lighted tube with a camera on the end will be placed through the rectum in order to visualize the lower GI tract. Biopsies will also be taken at this time of the lining of the bowels and, if present, of any polyps, to look for any abnormalities (like pre-cancerous or cancerous changes). If polyps are present, they will most often be painlessly removed.
Another option for the detection of colorectal cancer is the use of a prescription screening option called cologuard. This is a noninvasive take-home stool test that analyzes DNA for evidence of pre-cancerous or cancerous cells. This test is especially useful for those who do not wish to have a colonoscopy, cannot undergo the traditional procedure due to other medical conditions or medications, or for whom good preparation is particularly difficult due to a certain condition, as is the case with some diverticulosis patients.
How Can Colorectal Cancer be Prevented?
The key to prevention of colorectal cancer is regular screening. All individuals 50 years of age and older should have a screening colonoscopy. After this, colonoscopies will be scheduled at regular intervals every certain number of years (the number of years will depend upon the findings of this and any previous colonoscopies).
If you have a family history of adenomatous polyps or colorectal cancer, it is good to consider consulting with a gastroenterologist about screening before age 50. If you have a known genetic syndrome that predisposes you to polyps or colorectal cancer, or suspect you may have one, it is very important to maintain a relationship with a gastroenterologist.
Additionally, behavior modifications such as weight loss if obese, or quitting tobacco are personal impacts you can make to lower your own risk of colorectal cancer. Calcium and folic acid might have a protective role if taken in the correct amounts.