Colorectal cancer, also known as colon cancer, rectal cancer or bowel cancer, can affect any part of the colon (large intestine) and the rectum (the lower part of the colon that connects to the anus). The development of colorectal cancer usually begins with the growth of polyps, which are small, benign cell clusters that form on the colon’s interior. Over time, these polyps may turn into colon cancer.
The initial growth of polyps may produce few or no symptoms. Hence, regular health screening is recommended to identify and remove polyps before they develop into cancer.
Signs of colorectal cancer
Here are some signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer to look out for:
- Rectal bleeding or bright red/dark coloured blood in the stool
- A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhoea and constipation
- Stools that are narrower in shape than usual
- Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas, bloating or feeling full
- A feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
- Unexplained weight loss
- Nausea or vomiting
- Chronic fatigue
It is worth noting that having these symptoms does not necessarily mean you have colorectal cancer. Consult your doctor for colorectal cancer screening and to rule out other underlying medical conditions as soon as possible.
Causes of colorectal cancer
There is no known cause of colorectal cancer, but certain factors may increase your risk of developing colorectal cancer, including:
- Age. While colon cancer can affect people of any age, it’s more commonly diagnosed in those over the age of 50.
- Family history. If you have family members who have had colorectal cancer, your risk of developing the condition increases.
- Hereditary genetic disorders, such as Lynch Syndrome and MYH-Associated Polyposis (MAP), can significantly increase your risk of colorectal cancer. However, it’s worth noting that only a small percentage of colorectal cancer cases are linked to genetic disorders.
- Chronic inflammatory intestinal diseases, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, can increase your risk of colorectal cancer.
- Diet and lifestyle. Research suggests that having a diet high in red and processed meats and a sedentary lifestyle can increase the risk of colorectal cancer.
- Obesity. Studies have found that obesity is positively correlated with the risk of colorectal cancer.
- Diabetes. The risk of developing colorectal cancer is higher for people with diabetes, especially in young adults below the age of 50.
Treatment options for colorectal cancer
Available treatment options for colorectal cancer include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and targeted cancer therapy. Recommended treatment options may vary depending on your existing health conditions and the stage of cancer.
How to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer
As with all other medical conditions, prevention is always better than cure. As doctors, it is always better for a health issue to be identified early. Here are some steps that you can take to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer:
- Get a regular health screening for colorectal cancer. Since most cases of colorectal cancer begin with polyp growths, identifying and removing polyps early on can significantly lower your risk of colorectal cancer.. If you have any of the risk factors above, you may need to start screening before the age of 45. Speak to one of the Osler Health doctors to understand your screening options.
- Load up on vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Studies suggest that a diet high in dietary fibre can lower the risk of colorectal cancer. Furthermore, fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains also contain vitamins and antioxidants, which may contribute to cancer prevention.
- Stay active. Aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer.
- Maintain a healthy weight. This can be achieved with a combination of a healthy, balanced diet and regular exercise.
We know that many patients are concerned about having a colonoscopy. We can assure you that it is a very simple procedure and there is nothing to worry about! We have excellent relationships with providers and can guide you on the process. It may just save your life