Cancer Screening and Facts
What is Colorectal cancer?
According to the National Cancer Institute of Canada (NCIC) Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer and the second most common cause of death from cancer for both Canadian men and women.
Most Colorectal cancers start in cells that line the inside of the colon or the rectum.
The colon and rectum make up the large intestine (large bowel). The large intestine is the last part of the digestive system. Organs of the digestive system break down food, absorb nutrients and help pass waste out of the body.
Food is digested in the stomach and the small intestine. As the stomach and small intestine remove nutrients from food, it becomes a watery mass. The watery mass passes through the small intestine into the colon. The colon absorbs the water as the semi-solid waste travels through it to the rectum. This waste material is known as feces or stool. The stool is stored in the rectum. When you have a bowel movement, the stool leaves the body through the anus.
The majority of Colorectal cancers begin as benign growths in the lining of the colon called adenomatous polyps. Over the years, these polyps grow in size and number, thereby increasing the risk that the cells in the polyps will become cancerous. Timely removal of these growths – easily done during a colonoscopy – will prevent Colorectal cancer from developing. It is important to identify and remove these polyps early.
Polyp removal is usually done during a colonoscopy and the patient is sedated during the procedure. Recovery is very quick and usually pain-free. Polyps are sent for a biopsy and tested for any malignancies.
Colorectal cancer is a highly treatable cancer if it is detected early and it is up to 90 per cent preventable with timely colorectal cancer screening.
According to Colon Cancer Canada as it stands today, nearly half of those diagnosed find out too late unfortunately.
Colorectal cancer Statistics
• 423 Canadians, on average, are diagnosed with Colorectal cancer every week.
• 175 Canadians, on average, die of this disease every week.
• One in 14 men is expected to develop Colorectal cancer during his lifetime and one in 27 will die of it.
• One in 15 women is expected to develop Colorectal cancer during her lifetime and one in 31 will die of it.
• Anyone 50 and up should be screened regardless of family history.
Colorectal Signs and symptoms
• Blood in or on the stool (either bright red or very dark in colour)
• A persistent change in normal bowel habits such as diarrhea, constipation or both, for no apparent reason
• Frequent or constant cramps if they last for more than a few days
• Stools that are narrower than usual
• General stomach discomfort (bloating, fullness and/or cramps)
• Frequent gas pains
• A strong and continuing need to move your bowels, but with little stool
• A feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
• Weight loss for no known reason
Important Note: Many people diagnosed with Colorectal cancer never report any symptoms. Above are the most common signs of Colorectal cancer, but it is important to note that the symptoms are not unique to this type of cancer– please consult with your doctor if you suspect a problem.
Colorectal Cancer Screening
Colonoscopy is a screening test to catch cancer early, while it is still treatable.
A Colonoscopy is a medical procedure that allows your doctor to visually examine the lining of your large intestine from the inside. A colonoscopy is usually performed to test for colon cancer and to check for pre-cancerous polyps, which can be removed at the same time.
Your doctor uses a long, flexible tube called a colonoscope. This device, about as thick around as a finger, has a video camera on its tip and sends images to a video monitor, where your doctor can observe its path from your rectum to the deepest part of your colon.
Other methods of colorectal screening include Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) which tests for blood in the stool, CT colonography and capsule colonography.
Who should get Screened?
There is no “single cause” for developing Colorectal cancer, but there are some people who are considered to be at higher risk than the general population for Colorectal cancer include:
• People with a family history of Colorectal cancer. If you have a first degree relative (parent, sibling, grandparent) with Colorectal cancer, you should get tested 10 years before his/her age of diagnosis. If he/she was diagnosed at 48, you should be tested when you are 38 years old.
• People who have already been diagnosed with polyps or early stage Colorectal cancer.
• People who have inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease).
• People with a family history of inherited breast cancer, uterine or ovarian cancer.
• People 50 years and over.
• People who smoke cigarettes
If you are at higher risk, you should talk to your doctor about being screened as soon as possible.
Sources for information: