According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer and the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States – and it affects men and women in roughly equal numbers.
In 2013, more than 142,000 people in the United States were diagnosed with colorectal cancer. That same year, more than 50,000 died from the disease.
The numbers are scary, but there are things you can do about it – and early detection is your best weapon.
Colorectal cancer occurs when clusters of cells called polyps begin to grow in the lining of the large intestine or rectum. While most of these growths will remain benign, they can become cancerous. Therefore, if found, polyps should be removed immediately.
What makes colorectal cancer so deadly is that it often presents without symptoms. Some early warning signs to be on the lookout for include regular constipation or diarrhea, rectal cramping or bleeding, blood in your stool, fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss and, in later stages, pelvic pain. If you experience any combination of these symptoms, you should see your doctor immediately to get a screening.
Today, there are several methods used to screen for colorectal cancer. The best method is a colonoscopy, where a doctor uses a tiny camera to examine the rectum and colon. If polyps are found, they can then be biopsied or removed at that same time.
For a less invasive procedure, a doctor can take and examine X-rays of the colon. There is also a new method called a virtual colonoscopy, which uses a CT scan to create a 3-D model of your colon. However, in both minimally invasive methods if polyps are found a traditional colonoscopy will be needed to remove them.
The survival rate for colorectal cancer depends greatly on when it’s caught. That is why early detection is so vitally important. If you experience any changes in your bowel movements, consult your doctor and get tested. Beyond that, doctors strongly recommend a routine colonoscopy every 10 years for those over 50 years old.
Dr. Douglas Puffer is an oncologist and hematologist at Columbia St.
Mary’s Hospital Ozaukee. For more information, contact Dr. Puffer at
This article appeared in the March 27 issue of The Ozaukee News Graphic.