Colorectal Cancer: A Deadly but Highly Treatable and Curable Disease.
What is colon cancer?
Colorectal cancer — cancer of the colon or rectum — is the third most common cancer and the second most common cause of cancer deaths in the United States. An estimated 136,000 people are diagnosed with colorectal cancer each year, and about 50,000 people die from it. Colorectal cancer is also one of the most curable forms of cancer, if it’s caught early and treated optimally. In fact, in the past decade, significant progress has been made in reducing the incidence of (and death from) colorectal cancer due to preventive efforts and increased screening.
Who is at risk for developing colorectal cancer?
The greatest risk for developing colorectal cancer is age. About 90% of colorectal cancers occur in people over age 50, and the average age of Americans with colorectal cancer is 72. Other factors that can elevate your risk are:
- Being male
- African-American heritage
- Personal or family history of colorectal cancer or polyps
- Inflammatory conditions of the intestines/bowel
- Living a sedentary life
- Diet low in fiber and high in fats
It’s important to remember that people with no risk factors still develop colorectal cancer, and people who have risk factors may not develop cancer. It’s helpful to think of risk factors as influencing the development of colorectal cancer rather than driving it. Often, the cause of colorectal cancer isn’t known.
Early detection is the key to effective treatment and cure.
Early detection is what makes colorectal cancer one of the most curable forms of cancer. In other words, your ability to be treated in time and beat colorectal cancer depends heavily on having an annual colonoscopy from age 50 on. If you have a family history of colorectal cancer or other elevated risk factors, check with your doctor. You may need annual screenings starting at a younger age.
Know the symptoms… but don’t wait for them!
The idea behind the success of treatment and improvements in survivability rates is to detect colorectal cancer early. Symptoms generally occur after the disease has advanced to a point where it is less treatable/curable. Another challenge is that the symptoms of colorectal cancer are also symptoms of other medical problems — common problems.
See your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms for more than a few weeks or if they grow more severe:
- Changes in bowel habits
- Diarrhea, constipation or feeling the bowel doesn’t completely empty
- Blood in the stool
- Stools that look thinner/narrower than usual
- Frequent gas pains, bloating, fullness, cramps or other abdominal discomfort
- Unexplained weight loss
- Chronic fatigue or tiredness
- Unexplained iron deficiency
Treating colorectal cancer.
Like other types of cancer, colorectal cancer is treated with radiation therapy, chemotherapy and surgery. Surgery is the most common treatment, and it often eliminates the cancer alone. As the cancer surgeon removes the tumor, he or she will also remove a portion of the colon. (Colostomies are common, but often only temporary. In some cases, radiation therapy may be used following surgery to eliminate any residual cancer cells.
Also, the removed tumor will be examined by a pathologist to determine risk of spread and relapse. Chemotherapy may be recommended to kill any cancer cells that may have spread (escaped) prior to the surgery.
Colorectal cancer relapse and retreatment.
If colorectal cancer relapses in the colon, it sometimes can be treated with additional surgery. Should it relapse in one other place, like the liver or lungs, surgery and chemotherapy may provide cure. If colorectal cancer relapses in more than one place throughout the body, it isn’t considered to be curable. However, we do have chemotherapy drugs that can allow a person with relapsed colorectal cancer to live a good-quality life.
Depend on experience, commitment and state-of-the-art care.
Alpha Med Physicians Group’s cancer specialists are highly trained and experienced in treating colorectal cancer. We bring a unique degree of compassion and commitment to treatment, taking a patient-first approach as we follow today’s most advanced protocols and use the most effective and proven therapies.
For more information, or to schedule an appointment for colorectal cancer surgery in Tinley Park, Homewood, Palos Heights and the greater Chicago area, call 708-342-1900. You can also request an appointment using our easy online form on this page.