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Colorectal cancer refers to a malignancy that originates in the lining of the rectum or colon. It is a very common form of cancer that primarily affects people over the age of 60, though it can occur at any age. Colorectal cancer is relatively easy for doctors to treat when it is discovered early. Most cases, however, go undetected until the cancer already starts to spread to other parts of the body. An individual who experiences abdominal pain and notices blood in his or her stools should schedule an appointment with a physician right away to check for colorectal cancer and initiate treatment.
Cancers along the lining of the large intestine usually begin as small lumps called polyps that are not yet cancerous and do not cause physical symptoms. If polyps start to grow, however, they can become malignant and cause bowel inflammation and irritation. An individual might have frequent stomach cramps, abdominal tenderness, diarrhea, and bloody stools. In its later stages, colorectal cancer can spread to nearby muscle tissue and internal organs and cause weakness, fatigue, and weight loss.
Doctors are not sure of the exact causes of colorectal cancer, but medical researchers have identified a number of significant risk factors. Populations at the highest risk are the elderly, people with familial history of cancer, and individuals who consume lots of red meat and fatty foods. Studies have also shown that people who suffer from inflammatory bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis, are more likely than the general population to develop precancerous polyps.
Most early-stage instances of colorectal cancer are recognized during routine colon screenings or tests for other conditions. A doctor who notices polyps or other symptoms of cancer usually collects blood and stool samples for laboratory analysis. In addition, a procedure known as a colonoscopy may be performed so the physician can inspect tissue more clearly. During a colonoscopy, a thin tube with a light and a camera are inserted into the rectum and directed to the site of a polyp. The doctor can also extract a piece of tissue during a colonoscopy for laboratory testing.
Colorectal cancer is one of the simpler malignant conditions for doctors to treat when the cancer is detected in its early stages. A surgeon can remove polyps to completely eradicate tumors. If cancer spreads to deeper layers of the large intestine and muscle tissue, it becomes much more difficult to treat. Doctors usually try a combination of surgery to remove palpable tumors and chemotherapy to ablate remaining cancerous cells. Late-stage colorectal cancer is usually fatal, and treatment measures are geared toward relieving symptoms and palliative care.
It may not be possible to prevent colorectal cancer, but a person who knows that he or she is at risk can take steps to minimize the chances of a serious complication. Physicians usually suggest that people maintain diets that are high in fiber and low in fat, exercise regularly, and quit smoking. In addition, patients over the age of 50 should attend regular colon screenings so that specialists can monitor their colon health.