Colon and rectal cancer, popularly known as “colorectal cancer” is any cancer that develops in the colon or rectum. The colon is also referred to as the largest intestine, while the rectum is located at the end of the colon; both organs exist in the lower part of the digestive system. Colorectal cancer grows in stages and these stages progress to the most mature stage known as stage four.
Research by John Hopkins University points to a growing prevalence of colorectal cancer in young persons, but the exact causes are yet to be discovered1. While researchers are still studying the causes of colorectal cancer, a list of risk factors has been identified:
Smoking and excess alcohol intake
Excessive consumption of red meats and processed foods
Increase in age and family history of colorectal cancer
Pre-existing type 2 diabetes
Absence of physical activity
Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer
In stage one, it pops into the lining of the colon or rectum, and in stage two, it spreads to the walls of the organ. Symptoms at these stages include bleeding from the rectum, constipation, abdominal pains, diarrhoea, changes in stool color, shape, and traces of blood in the stool.
At stage three, the lymph nodes become affected. Symptoms include shortness of breath, body weakness, involuntary weight loss, more visible changes in your stool, and usually, vomiting occurs.
At stage four, which is the last stage, colorectal cancer progresses to affect other parts of the body, and this stage is usually accompanied by symptoms such as:
Swollen hands or feet
Jaundice (skin and eyes changes to yellow)
Shortness of breath
Diagnosis of Colon and Rectal Cancer
Early identification of this cancer makes it easier to treat and cure, as a person may go on to live without colorectal cancer for a long time after the diagnosis. If cancer doesn’t return the following 5 years, the individual will be viewed as cured. Diagnosis of colorectal cancer is made based on the symptoms manifested by individuals, and by performing a progression of tests to check for possible causes of the symptoms.
This is a process of pressing the abdomen to check for the presence and growth of lumps.
Complete blood count (CBC):
A complete blood count will provide your doctor with a snapshot of your overall health. Your blood cells will be measured and analyzed using the BC-20 Auto Hematology Analyser, the BC-10 Auto Hematology Analyser, and the BC-30 Auto Hematology Analyser to determine if you may be anaemic.
An automated immunohistochemistry will be conducted to check specific staining, and differences between the tumour cells and immune cells using Ventana Benchmark Ultra.
This involves testing of tumours and tissues using the Cobas 4800 system.
The marking of tumours within the colon and rectum will be done by using the Cobas E411 analyzer.
This involves inserting a colonoscope – a thin and flexible tube with an attached camera – through the anus to check the colon and rectum.
Prevention and Treatment
Treating colorectal cancer depends on the healthiness of the individual and the stage of cancer. Treatment approaches include:
Working with a treatment plan which will include medication and follow-up checks as advised and directed by the doctor.
At an early stage, surgery will involve the removal of cancerous polyps to prevent the other walls of the bowels from being infected. Removal of a portion of the colon or rectum and neighbouring lymph nodes is done if cancer has infected the walls of the bowels.
This involves using drugs to kill the cancerous cells after the surgery has been conducted.
Some risk factors such as age and family history cannot be prevented. However, some others can be curtailed by reducing the intake of alcohol and processed foods, engaging in regular physical activities, taking multivitamins, and eating more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
For people living with type 2 diabetes, efficient management of the condition through blood glucose monitoring is very vital. This can be conveniently achieved using the Accu-chek glucose meter.