Colorectal cancer is the second most common cancer in the country. It affects 140,000 people each year, nearly half of whom suffer fatal results. If diagnosed early enough colorectal cancer is essentially curable.
Cancer of the colon can occur at any age, but nearly 90% of the diagnosed cases are people over the age of 40. The risk for developing colorectal cancer doubles every ten years once a person hits this milestone. Other risks factors include genetics, polyps, ulcerative colitis, and cancer in other organs.
Nearly all colorectal cancers begin with benign polyps on the bowel wall that eventually increase in size and become cancer. Removing these polyps can prevent cancer.
Symptoms of colorectal cancer include changes in bowel habits and rectal bleeding. Abdominal pain and weight loss are associated with advanced stages of this cancer. It is also important to note there may be no symptoms in the early stages, especially when there are only benign polyps, so it is important to undergo regular checkups with your doctor to monitor the evolution of polyps. Routine colorectal cancer screenings are encouraged for people 50 and over. Patients with a first-degree relative with colon cancer should undergo screenings beginning at age 40.
There are several methods used by doctors to detect colorectal cancer. These include:
- Digital rectal exams
- Chemical test of the stool to detect blood
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy
- Barium enema
If abnormal results are found during preliminary screening, a colonoscopy is ordered. However, some patients choose to undergo a colonoscopy as their first line of prevention to achieve the most thorough evaluation. Polyps can be identified and removed during this procedure.
Most cases of colorectal cancer require surgery. This is often done in conjunction with chemotherapy or radiation. Approximately 80 to 90% of patients return to normal health when the cancer is diagnosed and treated early enough. A majority of the time the surgery can be performed with several small incisions using the daVinci robot.
Some heath professionals believe diet plays a role in preventing colon cancer. Eating high fiber, low-fat foods is recommended for preventing colon problems. Changes in bowel habits should be taken seriously and discussed with your doctor. This includes bouts with diarrhea, constipation, or blood in the stool. Hemorrhoids are not believed to be a precursor to colon cancer, but can produce symptoms that are similar. It is better to have these symptoms checked, even if you believe your hemorrhoids are the issue.
Diverticulosis is a common condition, but many people do not experience symptoms. It occurs when pockets develop in the colon wall. Approximately 50% of people age 60 and over and nearly everyone over the age of 80 develops these pockets. Diverticulitis occurs when these pockets become inflamed or cause general discomfort. Bleeding can also occur in relation to the pockets and can lead to significant bleeding from the colon.
Symptoms of Diverticular Disease
Should diverticulitis develop within the pockets, it can be treated with oral antibiotics, stool softeners, and dietary restrictions. There are cases in which the infection is so serious, hospitalization is necessary.
The procedure can often be performed with several small incisions using the daVinci robot. During the procedure the surgeon will remove the diseased part of the colon. A complete recovery can be expected with bowel function returning to normal at around 3 weeks.