Colorectal or Colon Cancer occurs in the colon or rectum. The colon is the large intestine or large bowel; the rectum is the passage way that connects the colon to the anus.
Colorectal Cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in both men and women and the second leading cancer killer. It is most commonly found in individuals over the age of 50, as cancer risk increases with age.
Most colorectal cancers start as a polyp – a growth that starts in the inner lining of the colon or rectum and grows toward the centre. Most polyps are not cancerous.
The early stages of colorectal cancer generally present no symptoms, which is why screening is so important. As a tumour grows, it may bleed or obstruct the intestine.
See your doctor if you have any of these warning signs:
- bleeding from the rectum
- blood in the stool or in the toilet after having a bowel movement
- dark or black stools
- a change in the shape of the stool
- cramping or discomfort in the lower abdomen
- an urge to have a bowel movement when the bowel is empty
- constipation or diarrhoea that lasts for more than a few days
- decreased appetite
- unintentional weight loss
Timely evaluation of symptoms consistent with colorectal cancer is essential, even for adults younger than age 50, among whom colorectal cancer incidence is rare, but increasing.
Screening Saves Lives
Screening has the potential to prevent colorectal cancer as it can detect precancerous growths, called polyps, in the colon and rectum. Several different screening tests can be used to find polyps or colorectal cancer.
Although most polyps will not become cancerous, removing them can prevent cancer from occurring.
Regular screening increases the likelihood that polyps that do develop into cancer will be detected at an early stage, when it is more likely to be cured. This also means treatment would be less extensive and recovery would be faster.
The following recommended screening guidelines can reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer:
- maintaining a healthy body weight
- engaging in regular physical activity
- eating a well-balanced diet
- limiting alcohol consumption
- not smoking
People at high risk of developing colorectal cancer may need earlier or more frequent tests than other people.
High Risk Factors Include:
- family history of colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer
- inflammatory bowel disease
- genetic syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non polyposis colorectal cancer.
Talk to your doctor about when to begin your screening and how often you should be tested.
Types of Screening
To help diagnose the cause of your symptoms you will probably be advised to have a lower gastrointestinal endoscopy.
There are two types of tests to choose from:
- ‘Flexible Sigmoidoscopy’ / ‘Proctosigmoidoscopy’
Both these tests allow the Endoscopist to have a clear view of your inside and enable him/her to diagnose the true cause of your symptoms.
For these tests to be successful your colon must be clean of all waste material that is usually found in the intestines.
Patients will be given detailed instructions about how to prepare for their test. It is important to follow all instructions carefully to ensure accurate test results.
If you are on any medication at the time, the doctor will guide you as to whether you should still take these in the days leading up to your screening procedure.
How long you stay in hospital will depend on the procedure you will be having and on whether you choose to be sedated for your test. If you prefer to be sedated then please allow for a stay of anything from 2-4 hours in total. If you choose not to be sedated then your stay will be much shorter.
The Endoscopist will be able to explain your test results after the procedure, once you are fully alert. If a biopsy was taken or if polyps were removed then these will have to be sent to the laboratory and results can be expected within one week.
Like any tests, there are risks involved, but adverse reactions are very rare. Please be sure to contact us if you are in any pain in the hours or days following your test.