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Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal Cancer

The colon is the part of the body where digestion is completed and the waste is prepared for elimination. The rectum is the last part of the large intestine and ends in the anus. Cancer can form in any of these areas, and are often referred to as colorectal cancer.

What are the symptoms of colorectal cancer?
In most cases, nothing unusual is noticed and diagnosis is made via a screening colonoscopy or similar test. However, you may notice blood in the stool or rectal bleeding, weight loss, a change in bowel habits, or abdominal cramps.

How is colorectal cancer diagnosed?
Colonoscopy, which involves the doctor inserting a thin, flexible tube into the colon to directly look for polyps, or flexible sigmoidoscopy, which is a similar procedure that looks only at the rectum and lower part of the colon, are two common tests. CT scans and tests performed on stool samples are other possibilities.

What are the treatments for colorectal cancer?
If a gastroenterologist locates polyps during a colonoscopy, he or she can remove them during the procedure. These polyps may not be cancerous but are often a precursor to cancer. More surgery may be necessary if the entire polyp wasn't removed or if it is cancerous. Sometimes, a section of the colon and adjacent lymph nodes are removed. You may be given chemotherapy if the cancer is believed to have spread or has grown through the wall of the colon. Radiation may be used with advanced cancers to extend lives, or in earlier stages of rectal cancer to lower the risk of recurrence.

What are the risk factors for colorectal cancer?
Eating a low-fiber, high-fat diet, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle are all risk factors. Smoking, heavy alcohol consumption and obesity also increase the risk. Older people are more at risk than younger people, and African-Americans are at higher risk than are people of other races. Previous radiation therapy, a family history of colon cancer, diabetes and various inflammatory bowel diseases are also associated with a higher risk.

What are some additional resources for learning about colorectal cancer?
If you or your loved one is facing colorectal cancer, CalvertHealth has a whole range of services designed to help you so you never take this journey alone. Please talk to your CalvertHealth provider or your Nurse Navigator, or check the service pages for information about treatments, services and support groups. You may also find more information on colon cancer from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.
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