Diseases & Conditions

Colorectal Cancer

What is Colorectal Cancer?

Colorectal cancer, also known as bowel cancer, colon cancer or or rectal cancer depending on where it develops in the colon or rectum. It occurs when abnormal cells in the lining of the colon or rectum grow and multiply uncontrollably, forming a tumor.

Colorectal cancer develops from certain growths or polyps in the lining of the colon. There are screening tests that can detect these polys before they become cancerous.

If a polyp becomes cancerous (it usually takes several years for cancer to form in a polyp) and is not treated, cancer can spread beyond the layer of tissue, muscle and outer part of the colon. It can also spread to other parts of the body via the lymph nodes or blood vessels.

Colorectal cancer is a serious condition, but with regular screening, early detection and effective treatment, the chances of a successful recovery increase significantly.

What are the Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer?

Early-stage colorectal cancer may not produce any noticeable symptoms, which is why regular screenings are crucial.

Sometimes the symptoms of colorectal cancer can be mistaken for other less serious conditions. However, as the disease progresses, common symptoms may include:

  • Persistent changes in bowel habits, such as diarrhea or constipation
  • Blood in the stool or rectal bleeding
  • Abdominal discomfort or cramps
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Iron deficiency anemia.

What Causes Colorectal Cancer?

Cancer of the colon happens when the cells lining the colon and rectum grow and divide, even when they are supposed to die, in an uncontrolled way. The cancerous cells may come from polyps.

Doctors don’t know why some people develop polyps that turn into colorectal cancer. However, there are certain risk factors that are known to increase the chance of developing precancerous polyps and colon cancer.

Lifestyle Risk Factors

  • Smoking: Any type of tobacco product increases your risk of developing colorectal cancer.
  • Alcohol use: Excessive drinking can increase your risk of developing cancer.
  • Obesity: A high-fat, high-calorie diet may increase your risk of colon cancer.
  • Eating lots of red meat and processed meat: Processed meats and red meats should be limited to once a week.
  • Sedentary lifestyle: Not exercising may increase your risk of colorectal cancer.

Medical Risk Factors

  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): Diseases including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, cause inflammation in the colon lining, and may increase the risk of colon cancer.
  • Genetic conditions: Some inherited conditions like Lynch syndrome and familial adenomatous polyposis, can increase your risk of developing colon cancer.
  • Family History: If close relatives have had colon or another type of cancer, you may be at an increased risk. Close relatives include parents, siblings or children. A family history of polyps may also increase the risk.
  • High number of polyps: People who have lots of polyps are at an increased risk of colon cancer.

How Can I Prevent Colorectal Cancer?

Prevention plays a vital role in reducing the risk of colorectal cancer. Here are some prevention strategies you can incorporate into your lifestyle:

  • Maintain a healthy diet: Focus on a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins while limiting the consumption of processed foods and red meats.
  • Engage in regular physical activity: Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week to promote a healthy digestive system.
  • Avoid tobacco and limit alcohol consumption: Smoking and excessive alcohol intake have been linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer. Quit smoking and limit alcohol to moderate levels.
  • Screenings and early detection: Regular screenings, such as colonoscopies, are essential for detecting precancerous polyps or early-stage cancer when treatment is most effective. In the UAE, screening for colorectal cancer should begin at 40 years of age in both men and women. In the presence of a family history of colorectal cancer, it may even need to start sooner. Talk to your doctor about screening and how often you should attend.
  • Understand your family history: Being aware of an increased risk due to family history is important. Your doctor may advise more routine screening, or suggest screening starts at an earlier age.

How is Colorectal Cancer Diagnosed?

If you are experiencing symptoms or have an increased risk of colorectal cancer, your healthcare provider may recommend various diagnostic tests. Advances in technology have improved the accuracy and efficiency of many gastrointestinal cancer diagnostic tests, including the tests for colon cancer. Diagnostic tests may include:

  • Colonoscopy: This procedure allows your doctor to examine the entire colon and rectum using a flexible tube with a camera. It helps detect polyps and early-stage cancer.
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy: Like a colonoscopy, but it examines only the lower portion of the colon.
  • Stool tests: These tests analyze stool samples for the presence of blood or abnormal DNA markers that may indicate colorectal cancer.
  • Fecal immunochemical test (FIT): A stool test that looks for hidden blood.
  • Guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT): Like the FIT, this also detects hidden blood in stools.
  • Molecular profiling: Tumor cells can be analyzed at the molecular level to identify targetable mutations.

What are the Treatment Options for Colorectal Cancer?

Treatment for colorectal cancer depends on several factors, including the stage of the cancer, its location, and your overall health. Thanks to advances in technology, doctors can now provide personalized treatment plans for patients diagnosed with colorectal cancer.

At Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, experts create a personalized treatment plan tailored to each patient. Treatment options include:

  • Surgery: The primary treatment for colorectal cancer involves surgical removal of the tumor and affected surrounding tissues. Our surgeons are experts at robotic and minimally invasive surgery which reduce the size of incisions leading to faster recovery, fewer complications and higher rates of negative margins and sphincter preservation in rectal cancer.
  • Surgery: The primary treatment for colorectal cancer involves surgical removal of the tumor and affected surrounding tissues. Minimally invasive surgery options reduce the size of incisions, meaning faster recovery and fewer complications.
  • Chemotherapy: Medications are used to destroy cancer cells or prevent their growth. Chemotherapy may be administered before or after surgery.
  • Radiation therapy: High-energy X-rays or other types of radiation are used to target and destroy cancer cells. It can be used before surgery to shrink tumors or after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells.
  • Targeted therapy: This treatment option uses drugs that specifically target cancer cells, sparing healthy cells. Targeted therapies can be used in combination with chemotherapy.
  • Immunotherapy: The patient’s own immune system is used to help fight cancer cells.

Colorectal cancer is a serious condition, but survival rates are very high when it is diagnosed at an early stage. Routine screening and reducing factors that might increase your risk of developing the disease are the best prevention strategies.

Talk to your doctor about colorectal cancer screening today.

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