According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the United States with nearly 143,000 new cases of the disease diagnosed in 2010. Fortunately, the death rate from colorectal cancer has been dropping over the last 20 years due to early screenings and improved treatments.
“Undergoing testing to diagnose colorectal cancer may be necessary because of abnormal results from a screening exam or if there are symptoms of the disease, such as a change in bowel habits, abdominal pain, weakness, rectal bleeding or blood in the stool,” said Frye Regional Medical Center’s Cancer Center Medical Director Kenneth Parish, M.D.
Diagnosis may begin with a complete medical history and physical examination. Endoscopic tests to check for colorectal polyps also may be necessary, including colonoscopy (procedures used to see inside the colon and rectum), and imaging tests such as a barium enema, double contrast barium enema or virtual colonoscopy. A biopsy is done on any abnormal-looking tissues that are removed during a colonoscopy to confirm the diagnosis of colorectal cancer.
Other imaging tests may be required to determine if a suspicious area is cancerous, learn if the cancer has spread or find out if treatment has been effective. These tests include computed tomography, ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging, positron emission tomography and angiography.
Once colorectal cancer had been diagnosed, treatment will be determined based on the stage and type of cancer, how far it has spread, overall health, side effects of treatment and long-term prognosis. Surgery usually is recommended for early stage colon cancer. The procedure calls for the removal of part of the colon and nearby lymph nodes. Some stage 0 or early stage 1 tumors can be taken out by removing the base of the polyp or the superficial cancer and a small margin of surrounding tissue.
Chemotherapy, which involves administering drugs either into a vein or orally, can be part of a colorectal cancer treatment plan as well. Neoadjuvant chemotherapy may be given along with radiation before surgery to try to shrink some rectal cancers. Adjuvant chemotherapy is given after surgery in case the cancer returns.
“It is important to discuss potential side effects of treatment with your doctor. Most side effects should decrease after treatment, but steps can be taken to reduce or relieve them,” added Dr. Parish.
For more information about diagnosing and treating colorectal cancer, talk with your doctor or visit the American Cancer Society Web site at www.cancer.org. For information about the Frye Cancer Center, call 828-315-3596.