What Is Colon Cancer?
is a term for cancer of the colon or rectum. Typically, colorectal cancer begins as a growth called a polyp that forms in the inner lining of the colon or rectum. 95% of all colon and rectal cancers start in the gland cells that line the inside of the colon and rectum. While not all polyps become cancerous, it is recommended that they be removed if discovered during a screening.
Colorectal cancer affects nearly 1 in 20 (5%) Americans each year and is currently the third most common cancer in the United States. While these statistics may be scary, the good news is that colon cancer is 90% curable if caught early. Additionally, each year the death rate for colon cancer has dropped for both men and women. Why? Screenings for colorectal cancer (such as a colonoscopy or blood test) improve the chance of detecting a polyp before it becomes cancerous, or discovering a cancer while it is in an earlier, more treatable stage. Additionally, colorectal cancer treatments have continued to improve in the last several years, resulting in over 1 million American colorectal cancer survivors.
Lowering your risk of colorectal cancer can be achieved by screenings, regular exercise, a diet rich in produce, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, and limiting alcohol.
6 Steps That Can Reduce Your Risk of Colon Cancer
Nearly 1 in 20 Americans will be diagnosed with colon cancer in their life, making it one of the most common cancers in America. However, despite the higher possibility, there are steps you can take to reduce your colon cancer risk.
- Get screened regularly for colon cancer. Most doctors recommend regular screenings after the age of 50, or earlier and more often if you have factors such as family history, Lynch syndrome, or Crohn’s disease, which may put you at higher risk. During a screening the doctor looks for signs or symptoms of cancer (such as growths called polyps) before they become cancerous. Screenings can also help detect cancer early, when it’s easier to treat.
- Exercise often. A regular exercise routine dramatically decreases your risk of developing colon cancer. The National Cancer Institute recommends moderate-intensity physical activity at least five times a week for 30 minutes to reduce your colon cancer risk by 30-40% as compared to those who are sedentary.
Watch your weight. As with many illnesses, obesity raises your risk of developing and dying from colon cancer. Physical fitness and healthy food choices can help you manage your weight.
- Enjoy plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The western diet, which is high in fatty meats and low in fresh produce and whole grains, increases the risk for colon cancer. Instead, choose fresh fruits and vegetables, high-fiber grains, and consume less red meat or processed meat to cut your risk of colon cancer.
- Go Smoke-Free. Smoking not only increases your risk of developing and dying from colon cancer, it may even double your risk, according to a study by the American Cancer Society. Quit your daily cigarette habit, your heart, lungs, and colon will thank you.
- Drink less alcohol. Because heavy drinking has been linked with colon cancer, The American Cancer Society encourages limiting alcoholic drinks to 2 per day for a man, and one drink per day for a woman.
Additional risk factors like family history, ulcerative colitis, Lynch syndrome, and Crohn’s disease are unpreventable factors that may require more frequent screenings to prevent or detect colon cancer early on. About 20% of people who develop colon cancer have a family member who has also been diagnosed with colon cancer. Talk to our board certified surgeons to determine when you should begin screenings.
Treating Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer is most effectively treated or cured when the cancer is detected during earlier stages (through screenings), however, medical innovations have made treatment more successful if cancer is advanced.
There are four common treatment options for colorectal cancer include:
- Surgery is the most common option for treating early colorectal cancer. If colorectal cancer is detected during a colonoscopy, the polyp is completely removed and biopsied. In cases where cancer has spread to the stalk of the polyp, additional surgery may be recommended. During surgery, the cancerous portion of the colon or rectum is removed and the ends are reattached. In cases where there is not enough tissue to reattach the colon and rectum together, one end is attached to the belly to allow stool to transfer into a bag outside of the body (called a colectomy). In some cases where the small intestine must be attached to the belly (ileostomy), the large intestine can be reconnected once it has had time to heal. Rectal cancer that has spread to other organs may require a surgery called pelvic exenteration, which removes nearby affected organs. Our board-certified surgeons, including colorectal specialist, Dr. Sachin Vaid, are skilled in the most advanced colorectal treatment options in Delaware.
- Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to kill cancerous cells and shrink tumors. Radiation before surgery helps to shrink tumors and reduce the risk of rectal cancer recurrence. Often, radiation is combined with chemotherapy, called chemoradiation. Radiation performed after surgery may help eliminate remaining, unseen cancer, which reduces the chance of cancer recurrence. For patients who are not healthy enough for surgery, radiation can help control rectal cancer.
- Chemotherapy uses medication to treat cancer. Much like radiation therapy, chemotherapy can be given before surgery to shrink the cancer, or after surgery, to reduce the risk of the cancer returning. Chemo has also been used to extend the life or to relieve the symptoms of patients with advanced cancer. Chemotherapy is commonly administered through oral medications or injections into the vein. Chemotherapy can be combined with radiation to improve success rates, but may also increase the symptoms that patients experience. Most symptoms disappear after chemotherapy treatment has finished.
- Targeted therapies are drugs that are designed to attack the portion of cancer cells that are different from normal cells. Targeted therapies typically offer less severe side effects than chemotherapy. Advanced colorectal cancers are often treated with this innovative therapy option.