Colorectal Cancer – What it is, how it is diagnosed and treated and the important risk factors.

Dr David Johannes de Villiers General Surgeon at Busamed Paardevlei Private Hospital gives insight into Colorectal Cancer – What it is, how it is diagnosed and treated and the important risk factors.

What is Bowel Cancer?

Bowel cancer, also known as colon or colorectal cancer is a form of cancer that usually begins in the large intestine.

There are four stages of bowel cancer:

  • Stage 1 affects the lining of the colon or rectum.
  • Stage 2 occurs when the cancer has spread to the walls of the colon or rectum.
  • Stage 3 affects the lymph nodes.
  • Stage 4 occurs when the cancer has spread to other organs in the body.

Some of the most common symptoms of bowel cancer include chronic constipation and diarrhoea; blood in the stool or rectum; unexplained fatigue and weight loss; and abdominal pain.

How is it diagnosed?

The surgeon may recommend a colonoscopy in order to make a diagnosis. During this procedure, a colonoscope is used to look inside the colon. The colonoscope is a flexible, narrow tube that comprises a light and a camera. The scope is passed into the anus and gently guided up the colon. During this procedure, images transmitted from the camera to a monitor, will allow the surgeon to pick up on any potential issues. It is also possible to take small samples of suspicious tissue for laboratory analysis.

How can it be treated?

If bowel cancer is diagnosed in its early stages, it is sometimes possible to undergo surgery alone, as the only treatment option. During the surgery, cancerous polyps can be removed. If the polyps have spread into the bowel walls, a section of the colon or rectum may need to be removed. In some cases, lymph nodes may also be removed. If it is possible, the remaining section of the colon will be reattached to the rectum, but if this is not a viable option, the surgeon may recommend a colostomy or ileostomy. During this procedure, the surgeon will make an opening in the abdominal wall, through which waste can be removed.

What factors increase your risk of colorectal cancer?

Age: Risk of colorectal cancer increases as you age and is more common after the age of 50.

Obesity or being overweight: Being overweight or obese can increase your risk of colorectal cancer in both men and woman.

A lack of physical activity: People who do no regular exercise and a lot of sitting may have an increased risk.

Diet: Research has linked a diet high in red and processed meat and low in fibre as a contributing risk factor.

Alcohol and tobacco consumption: Alcohol and tobacco consumers are more likely to develop health related issues than non-consumers.

History of Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): Conditions such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis may cause inflammation of the large intestines which could increase the risk of colorectal cancer.

Family or personal history of colorectal cancer or colorectal polyps: The risk of bowel cancer is increased if you have a first degree relative diagnosed with bowel cancer. Some inherited disorders such as Lynch syndrome and familial adenomatous polyposis can also raise your risk of colorectal cancer.

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