Services & Procedures

Colon & Rectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is actually the third most common type of cancer in men and women. It includes any cancer of the colon or rectum, the lower part of the digestive system. Most colorectal cancers are adenocarcinomas, meaning it begin in cells that make and release mucus and other fluids.

Causes of Colorectal Cancer and Who's at Risk

The specific cause of colon cancer is unknown. However, most colorectal cancers begin as polyps, which are abnormal growths of tissue cells. Normally these polyps are benign, but over time they can develop into cancer.

Recent research has brought to light some risks that may be linked to the cause of colorectal cancer

Inherited gene mutations

Inherited gene mutations that increase the risk of colon cancer can be passed through families, but these inherited genes are linked to only a small percentage of colon cancers. 

The most common forms of inherited colon cancer syndromes include Hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC, or Lynch Sydrome) and Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP). Patients who have colorectal cancer with these inherited genes are typically diagnosed before the age of 50, which is rare.

These inherited mutations can be detected through genetic testing, and is typically done if you have a family history of colorectal cancer, or have a high risk medical history. Inherited gene mutations don't make cancer inevitable, but they can increase the risk of cancer significantly.

Diet

While it's not known why, some studies show a connection between a Western diet and increased risk in colorectal cancer. This diet is high in fat, and low in fiber. This was brought to light from a higher risk of colorectal cancer for people who moved from a non-Western diet to a Western diet, meaning it's not just the demographic of the area, but the diet associated with the area. Scientists aren't quite sure why, but there is ongoing research to study the effect a Western diet has on the microbes in the colon.

Other Risk Factors of Colorectal Cancer Include

  • Older age (older than 50)
  • Bein African-American
  • A personal history of colorectal cancer or polyps
  • Family history of colon cancer
  • Inflammatory intestinal conditions, such as Crohn's Disease or Ulcerative Colitis
  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Heavy alcohol use

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Colorectal Cancer

Symptoms can include:

  • A sudden change in your bowel habits lasting longer than four weeks
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Blood in your stool
  • Chronic abdominal pain
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • A feeling that your bowel doesn't empty completely, or incontinence
  • Weakness or fatigue

The most common ways to diagnose colorectal cancer are:

Colonoscopy - A colonoscopy is an exam people usually get every 10 years starting at the age of 50. This is done at a colorectal office typically, and is a very common procedure. A device is inserted through the rectum to get images of the patient's rectum and colon. This is typically done under sedation, but non-sedated colonoscopies are becoming more popular. The doctor will look for tumors, polyps and any signs of potential cancer.

Biopsy - A biopsy is when a doctor takes a portion of the tissue to be examined. A pathologist will analyze the tissue, and is the most definitive way to diagnose colorectal cancer.

PET/CT Scan - A tracer is given to the patient so the PET/CT machines can take images of the cancerous tissue. The sugary tracer is eaten up by the most active tissue, and cancerous tissue will typically be the most active, due to it's rapid cell generation. This helps highlight cancerous tissue in the body, and is usually done to find specific tissue after the patient ha already been diagnosed with colorectal cancer, or for ongoing monitoring to see how the cancer is developing. 

MRI - An MRI uses magnetic fields to help determine the tumor size. A fluid is usually injected into the patient which helps the MRI pick up a clearer image. This test is most helpful for seeing how the cancer has grown. 

Treatment for Colorectal Cancer

Surgery is the main treatment for colorectal cancer in conjunction with radiation therapy, based on what stage it's in. Depending on how the cancer has spread, different surgeries are used. Either way, surgery to cure both colon and rectal cancer usually involve the same procedures, but can sometimes vary.

Polypectomy - This is a very common type of procedure done in the early stages of the cancer. Cancerous polyps of the colon or rectum can be detected and even removed during a colonoscopy.

Local Excision - This procedure usually treats cancer of the rectum. Depending on the case, it can be done through the anus or an incision in the rectum. This is done when part of the tissue wall has developed cancer, so your doctor will remove the cancer and some surrounding tissue from the rectum.

Colon Resection (Colectomy) - This is commonly done in more later stages of cancer or when cancer develops directly on the tissue wall of the colon. A colon resection involves removing a part of sometimes all of the colon and attached tissues to the cancer.

Minimally Invasive Laparoscopic Surgery - Through a few incisions, your doctor will be able to look inside of your abdominal cavity with small scopes. Small instruments are used to remove cancerous tissue through these small incisions and leave minimal scarring and recovery time.