What is colorectal cancer? Understanding, detecting, and managing the global health concern

Colorectal cancer is a pressing global health issue affecting the colon and rectum.

Essential insights into its signs, symptoms and treatments are pivotal for early detection and effective management. 

Here’s a deep dive in to the intricacies of colorectal cancer to provide individuals with knowledge about this widespread and preventable disease.

  1. Understanding colorectal cancers
  2. Signs and symptoms
  3. Risk factors
  4. Diagnostic procedures
  5. Treatment approaches
  6. Immunotherapy advancements
  7. Preventive measures
  8. Importance of early detection

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Colorectal cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the cells of the colon or rectum, and it is the third most common cancer diagnosed worldwide, according to the American Cancer Society. 

It often develops from precancerous polyps, and early detection can prevent its progression.

A doctor with a blue ribbon next to a colon cancer model

Common signs of colorectal cancer include changes in bowel habits, blood in the stool, abdominal discomfort, unintentional weight loss and fatigue. (iStock)

Common signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer include persistent changes in bowel habits, blood in the stool, abdominal discomfort, unintentional weight loss and fatigue. 

“Sometimes the first sign of colorectal cancer is a blood test showing a low red blood cell count,” reads the American Cancer Society.

It is crucial not to dismiss these symptoms, as timely action can significantly impact treatment outcomes.

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Your risk of getting colorectal cancer increases as you get older. 

Risk factors for colorectal cancer include age, family history, personal history of colorectal polyps or inflammatory bowel disease, and lifestyle factors such as a high-fat diet, sedentary lifestyle and smoking, according to the CDC. 

Colonoscopies, fecal occult blood tests, and sigmoidoscopies are among the tools used for early detection, reads cancer.net. 

Screening is particularly vital for individuals with risk factors or those age 50 and older.

Colorectal cancer

Colorectal cancer often originates from precancerous polyps, emphasizing the importance of early detection. (iStock)

There are a number of treatments for colorectal cancer, often involving surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or a combination of these, says The National Cancer Institute. 

Surgical interventions aim to remove cancerous tissue, and advancements in minimally invasive procedures have improved recovery times.

Recent strides in cancer research have introduced immunotherapy as a promising treatment option for some colorectal cancers. 

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Immunotherapy works by leveraging the body’s immune system to target and eliminate cancer cells, offering new hope in the fight against this disease.

“While immunotherapy has succeeded in microsatellite unstable (MSI) colorectal cancers, only about 3-5% advanced colorectal cancers are MSI and there are no approved immunotherapies for the far more common MSS colorectal cancers,” according to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. 

While not all colorectal cancers are preventable, certain lifestyle choices can reduce the risk. 

Adopting a high-fiber, low-fat diet, engaging in regular physical activity, avoiding tobacco and excessive alcohol consumption, and participating in regular screenings all contribute to a proactive approach to colorectal health, according to the National Institute of Health. 

A doctor holding a dark blue ribbon for colon cancer

The dark blue ribbon is the symbol for colorectal cancer awareness. (iStock)

Routine screenings, coupled with awareness of symptoms, play a pivotal role in catching the disease at a manageable stage. 

Regular communication with healthcare providers ensures timely screenings based on individual risk profiles.

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Understanding the signs, symptoms, risk factors and available treatments empowers individuals to make informed decisions about their colorectal health. 

As research continues to advance, colorectal cancer prevention and treatment evolves, offering hope for improved outcomes and a brighter future in the fight against this disease.

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