The Preventable, Treatable “C” Word: Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal Cancer is the most preventable and treatable cancer, yet over 55,000 people die every year from this form of cancer.

Take a moment to read this article… It could save your life or the life of someone you love.

What is colorectal cancer?image-sfl-couric-250x200

Colorectal cancer begins either in the rectum, the last several inches of the colon nearest the rectum, or the large intestine also known as the colon.  This explains why this type of cancer can be called either colon or rectal cancer depending on the site where the disease originates.  Each form has many features in common and both can spread, so they are often referred to jointly as colorectal cancer.

What is the function of the colon and rectum?

As food progresses down the gastrointestinal tract, from the esophagus to the stomach then through the small intestine (longest segment of the digestive system and about 20 feet long), food continues to be broken down, and most of the nutrients are absorbed.

Food then moves from the small intestine to the large intestine or colon, which is about 5 feet long, where more water and salt is absorbed.  Here, the colon acts as a muscular tube that stores accumulated waste matter called feces or stool.  The rectum is the final 6 inches of the digestive system, where the feces stored until it passes out the body through the anus.

The wall of the colon and rectum is made up of several  layers which is important to know as colorectal cancer staging definitions are determined by the extent the cancer has spread into these layers.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Signs and symptoms of colon cancer can include a significant change in your bowel habits such as diarrhea or constipation, or in the consistency of the stool.  One may experience persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas, or pain, or a feeling that the bowel doesn’t completely empty.  Sometimes there may be rectal bleeding or blood in the stool.  Unexplained weight loss or weakness and fatigue may also be present.  However, in the early stages of colorectal cancer many people often have no signs or symptoms.  This is the reason doctors rely on screening.


When are you most at risk?

The risk of getting colorectal cancer increases as you get older and is the third most common type of cancer.  More than 90% of cases happen in people 50 years and older.  In fact, it is the most common cancer in seniors over 75.  The good news is that there has been an increase in screening among seniors; especially since Medicare insurance pays for the screening tests.

When should you see a doctor?

If you experience any symptoms such as blood in your stool or a persistent change in bowel habits, make an appointment with your doctor.  It is imperative that you talk to your doctor ahead of time about when to begin screenings for colon cancer based upon your personal situation.  Generally the guidelines recommend colon cancer screening begins at age 50.  At the same time, those with a family history of colorectal cancer are encouraged to start their screenings at an earlier age and have more frequent screenings.

With screening tests and colonoscopies including the ability to find and remove precancerous polyps before they have the opportunity to turn into cancer or find it in the early stages, when treatment is most effective, this is the most preventable and treatable form of cancer you can encounter.

Want to find out more?

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Screen for Life: National Colorectal Cancer Action Campaign

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Basic Information About Colorectal Cancer

Mayo Clinic
Diseases and Conditions: Colon Cancer

WebMD – Colon Cancer Health Center

Daily News – Daily Checkup: Screening is the key to fighting colorectal cancer

National Center for Biotechnology Information
Farin Amersi, M.D., Michelle Agustin, M.P.H., and Clifford Y. Ko, M.D., Colorectal Cancer: Epidemiology, Risk Factors, and Health Services, Clinic of Colon Rectal Surgery, August 2005, 18(3): 133-140

Utah Peoples Post
Colon cancer incidence declining in US older adults: Study

Helen Trowsdale, President of AA Care Services, is a nurse administrator with over 30 years of experience as a BSN, psychiatric nurse, and geriatric care manager with adults as well as pediatrics in hospitals, private duty home health care agencies, and residential home health care. Her team of caregivers are dedicated to serving their clients with home care in San Antonio, New Braunfels, and Austin; providing clients with consistent, quality care while minimizing the number of caregivers in the home. Learn more about AA Care Services.

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