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Colorectal Cancer

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Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cancer killer of men and women combined in the U.S. More than 90 percent of colorectal cancer cases are discovered in people over age 50. Screening is essential to diagnosing colorectal cancer because the disease lacks symptoms in the early stages. An estimated 60 percent of colorectal cancer deaths could be prevented if everyone over age 50 were screened routinely. Colorectal cancer develops in the cells lining the colon and rectum. The stage is based on the extent of the spread of cancer through deeper layers, lymph nodes, and surrounding structures.

Statistics 

  • In 2014, an estimated 136,830 cases of colorectal cancer will be diagnosed in the United States.
  • An estimated 50,310 people in the United States will die from colorectal cancer in 2014.
  • The five-year survival rate for colorectal cancer discovered early and before the cancer spreads is 90 percent, but because of low screening rates, only 40 percent of colorectal cancers are identified in this early stage.
  • In Texas in 2014, there are 9,760 expected new cases of colorectal cancer and 3,430 expected deaths.

Risk Factors 

  • Age: People over age 50 have a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer.
  • Family History: People with close relatives who have had colorectal cancer are at a greater risk. Those with a family history should consult a doctor about the frequency of screening.
  • Diet: Overweight people are at a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer. A high-fat diet, including diets that contain large amounts of red and processed meats, can increase risk.
  • Health: Type 2 diabetes has been linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer. People with a history of polyps and inflammatory bowel disease are also at an increased risk, and may need earlier or more frequent screening.
  • Lynch Syndrome (HNPCC): This inherited condition affecting the body’s genes increases risk of colorectal cancer. Lynch syndrome is responsible for up to 3 percent of colorectal cancers, and those with the condition have a lifetime risk of up to 80 percent of developing colorectal cancer. Genetic testing can determine if a person has the gene mutation associated with Lynch syndrome.

Symptoms 

Typically, people in the early stages of colorectal cancer do not have symptoms; symptoms become apparent as the disease advances. If a person experiences any of the following symptoms, he or she should consult a physician.

  • Abnormal bowel habits
  • Vomiting, diarrhea, constipation
  • Feeling that bowel doesn't fully empty
  • Cramping or stomach discomfort
  • Frequent gas or feeling bloated
  • Bleeding from the rectum
  • Blood in the stool
  • Feeling of weakness or fatigue
  • Stools that are narrower than usual
  • Unexpected weight loss

Prevention 

  • Screening: Men and women age 50 and older with an average risk for developing colorectal cancer should have at least one of the five screening tests: annual fecal occult blood test (FOBT) or fecal immunochemical test (FIT); flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years; double-contrast barium enema every five years; virtual colonoscopy every five years; or colonoscopy every 10 years. Those with increased risk factors should consult their physician whether to begin screenings earlier than age 50.
  • Lifestyle: Maintaining a regular exercise schedule and healthy diet may decrease the risk of colorectal cancer. A healthy diet includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and limited consumption of high-fat foods, red and processed meats, and alcohol. Aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen are linked to lower risk of colorectal cancer and polyps. However, these drugs can have serious side effects. You should talk with your physician before taking them specifically to lower your risk.

Treatment Options 

There are four main types of treatment for colorectal cancer: surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapies. Specific needs may be addressed by surgeons, gastroenterologists, or medical or radiation oncologists. For complex treatments, a team of specialists may be involved.

Sources: American Cancer Society, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Cancer Institute, and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services