Colorectal cancer: Everything you need to know

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Early detection is the key to treat cancer in time. (Photo: Pixabay)

Cancer in all its forms is rising worldwide. In India, while the prevalence of colorectal cancer is lower than in western countries, it is the seventh leading cause of mortality. As per the recent data provided by Globacan India 2018, over 27,000 new cases have been registered last year with a mortality of around 20,000 patients. It is also estimated that the number of patients living with the condition is over 50,000, informs Dr Mayank M Madan, GI & Bariatric Surgeon, CK Birla Hospital for Women, Gurugram.

The colon and rectum, which constitute the lower part of the digestive system, are a part of the lower intestines that aid in absorbing water from the stools and storing them until bowel movement, respectively. "Development of precancerous polyps originating from the colon or rectum (that usually have the common symptoms) leads to the development of colorectal cancer. Until now, colon cancer used to be a disease that affects people after the age 50, but in the last decade there has been a sharp increase in the number of cases among the younger population. It is surprising to see that almost 35 per cent of the patients suffering from colon or rectal cancer or colorectal cancer are diagnosed under the age of 40 years," adds Dr Madan.

Timely diagnosis is highly important in deciding the course of treatment. Many cancers, like of the colon and rectum, have been extensively researched and therefore can be treated well if diagnosed on time. In fact, cancer of the colon is considered to be the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women. Ideally, screening for colon cancer should begin at the age of 40 in healthy adults, but due to poor lifestyle habits among youngsters it is quite likely to strike early. With extensive surveillance, early detection and prompt treatment coupled with a few lifestyle changes like maintaining ideal body weight and consuming high fibre content, the incidence of colon cancer can be controlled.

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Symptoms

Symptoms like fatigue, weakness, change in bowel habits, diarrhoea or constipation, blood stains in stool, sudden weight loss accompanied by abdominal cramps and bloating should never be ignored. Though the symptoms may be an indication of other digestive disorders, it is advisable to rule out the possibilities of colon cancer at the earliest.

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Sudden weight loss should not be ignored. (Photo: Getty Images/Thinkstock)

What are the major risk factors for developing colorectal cancer?

Apart from being genetic (which may only have 15-20 per cent chances of affecting the next generation), poor lifestyle habits are major contributing factors that increase the risk of developing colon cancer up to three times higher, says the doctor.

1. Poor diet: Many studies are suggestive of the fact that regular consumption of a diet low in fibre and high in fat are attributing to the rise in colon cancer cases. Typically, Indian corporate and young professionals follow a western diet that is low in fibre and high in fat and calories. Also, the risk doubles in people who consume diets high in red meat and processed meat.

2. Physical inactivity: It is advised for everyone to at least devote 5-6 hours a week for exercise or any kind of physical activities, the absence of which has higher chances of developing colon cancer. A poor, inactive and sedentary lifestyle makes you highly vulnerable to such cancers and also affects overall health.

3. Lifestyle disorders: Obesity and diabetes not only raise the chances of developing colon cancer but in comparison to a person with normal weight, patients with higher BMI or with insulin resistance have increased risk of mortality due to colon cancer.

4. Smoking and bingeing on alcohol: Alcoholics and chain-smokers have an elevated risk of colon cancer. Giving up smoking and restricting alcohol intake reduces the chances of colon cancer greatly.

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Smoking is extremely injurious to health. (Photo: Getty Images/Thinkstock)

How is it treated?

Early detection is very important to cure colon cancer. Because of modern targeted management, including planned surgery, chemo and radiotherapy, the outlook for such cancers have changed significantly.

Surgical Intervention - Different types of treatment are available for patients with colon cancer depending on the stage, whether the disease has recurred, along with the patient's health and age. Surgery is the most common treatment for all stages of colon cancer. In ideal situations, where the cancer is found at a very early stage, a doctor can remove the tumor with a colonoscope. Most of the time, however, colon surgery is required. Also, depending on age and health of a patient, a laparoscopic colectomy can be done to eliminate the cancer. It surely avoids a big incision on the abdomen and allows early recovery from the operation and an early return to work for young patients.

The colon is so frequently taken for granted that it is causing problems to a number of people, especially the younger generation. Lifestyle and diet definitely play an important role. Like the heart, liver and kidney, the colon deserves a lot more attention than it gets in our modern day world.