Colorectal cancer is the third most prevalent cancer in both men and women, and the second highest cause of death due to cancer in the United States.  The condition is treatable and curable in many cases, which is why it is imperative for individuals over the age of 50 to educate themselves on the condition and schedule regular screenings that test for abnormalities in the colon. Read on to learn more about colorectal cancer and how the condition is diagnosed and treated.

What Is Colorectal Cancer?

Colorectal cancer is a malignant condition that develops on the colon and rectal linings. The condition often begins as a harmless polyp in the lining of the colon. In certain cases, colon polyps can develop into cancer if left untreated, which is why regular cancer screenings are essential. Colorectal cancer can spread to other organs of the body.

Colorectal cancer can occur in individuals of any age, however the condition has an incident rate of over 90 percent in people over the age of 40, with the risk doubling every ten years.

Symptoms Of Colorectal Cancer

In its early stages, colorectal cancer symptoms may be mild or non-existent. When symptoms do develop, they can include blood-specked stools, constipation, rectal bleeding, diarrhea and a change in bowel movement habits. Individuals may also experience chronic bloating and stomach discomfort. These symptoms can also be present with mild conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome or gastritis, which is why it is always important for individuals with unexplained digestive symptoms to consult with a physician in order to obtain an accurate diagnosis.

Testing For Colorectal Cancer

There are several testing options for colorectal cancer that include fecal occult blood tests, colonoscopy exams and double contrast barium enema tests. Fecal occult blood tests measure for microscopic amounts of blood in the feces that can occur when the colon or rectal walls are inflamed. During a colonoscopy exam, a bendable, lighted instrument is inserted into the rectum. The colon is then expanded with puffs of air, which allows for the light to pick up abnormalities in the colon walls. Polyps or abnormalities that are detected are typically removed or biopsied in order to be properly analyzed. During a double contrast barium enema procedure, patients are treated with barium solution enemas and tested with multiple X-rays. The barium solution works by outlining the rectum and the colon in the X-ray images, allowing for easier detection of abnormalities.

Treatment Options

If colorectal cancer is diagnosed, treatment for the condition depends on the extent of the cancer. If the cancer is localized to the colon or rectum, surgery may be the only treatment needed. If the cancer has spread to the surrounding organs, chemotherapy and surgery may be recommended. Later-stage cancers are also treated with combined surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Patients with colorectal cancer who are treated when the condition is in its early stages have an approximate cure rate of 80 to 90 percent.

Early Detection Is Essential

Colorectal cancer is treatable and curable when detected in its early stages. Understanding the early symptoms of colorectal cancer and scheduling regular cancer screenings can allow for prompt detection and efficient treatment.

For more information, contact a specialist, such as Northwest Gastroenterology Associates.