Colorectal

Cancer screening guidelines
 

What is colorectal cancer?
Cancer of the colon and rectum is a disease in which cancerous cells develop in the tissues of these areas. Colorectal cancers can occur in individuals of any age, however, it is most common in people over the age of fifty. It is highly treatable when it is found early, but it may go undetected during the early stages because many people who have it do not experience symptoms.

Cancer of the colon and rectum is a disease in which cancerous cells develop in the tissues of these areas. Colorectal cancers can occur in individuals of any age, however, it is most common in people over the age of fifty. It is highly treatable when it is found early, but it may go undetected during the early stages because many people who have it do not experience symptoms.

Symptoms of colorectal cancer
The symptoms of colorectal cancer may resemble the symptoms of other conditions, such as infections, hemorrhoids, and inflammatory bowel disease. Because early detection of colorectal cancer is critical to successful treatment, you should see a doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • A change in bowel habits (such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool) that lasts for more than a few days
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool
  • Cramping and/or gnawing stomach pain
  • Decreased appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Jaundice (yellowing) of the skin or sclera of the eye

It is also possible to have the cancer and not have symptoms, so screening is essential for persons who are at an increased risk of getting the disease as well as those over the age of 50.

Diagnosis
Routine screening tests are recommended for patients who have any of the risk factors, including any of the symptoms listed above. The three screening and diagnostic tests performed most commonly for colon cancer are provided physicians at Oakwood:

  • Rectal examination: Wearing thin gloves, the doctor puts a greased finger into the rectum and gently feels for lumps. The doctor might also check material collected from the rectum to see if there is any blood in it.
  • Proctoscopy: The doctor might want to look inside the rectum and lower colon with a special instrument called a sigmoidoscope or a proctosigmoidoscope. This examination, called a proctoscopy or procto examination, finds about half of all colon and rectal cancers.
  • Colonoscopy: The doctor might also want to look inside the rectum and the entire colon with a special tool called a colonoscope. This test can also be done in a doctor's office.

If, when doing these tests, the doctor finds tissue that is not normal, he or she will need to cut out a small piece of the tissue and look at it under a microscope to see if it contains any cancer cells. This procedure is called a biopsy and is usually done in the doctor's office during the proctoscopy or colonoscopy.

Treatments
Several treatment options have been developed for colorectal cancer over the past decade. To assure quality patient care, Oakwood offers a gastrointestinal multidisciplinary program. This program, which includes team members such as radiation oncologists, medical oncologists, gastroenterologist, and surgeons, meets on a weekly basis at tumor board to discuss patient cases and treatment options. These tumor boards provide the patient and referring physician with recommendations from several disciplines of care. Three areas of treatment that are commonly used for colorectal cancer are provided at Oakwood, by experienced staff and physicians:

  • Surgery - Surgery is the most common treatment for all stages of colon cancer. A doctor may remove the cancer using one of several procedures, based on the findings and type of cancer present.
  • Radiation Therapy - Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation can come from a machine outside the body (external radiation therapy) or from putting materials that produce radiation (radioisotopes) through thin plastic tubes into the area where the cancer cells are found (internal radiation therapy).
  • Chemotherapy - Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy is a systemic treatment, meaning that the drugs flow through the bloodstream to nearly every part of the body to kill cancerous cells.