Saanichton, BC

Dr. Miguel A. Lipka

Colorectal Cancer

This is categorized under:

Cancer of the colon, rectum, appendix and anus — known as colorectal cancer — develops in the tissues of the large intestine. This group of cancers is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in North America and affects men and women equally. Fortunately, with screening, the majority of colorectal cancers can be prevented or detected while still treatable.

If several members of your family been diagnosed with colon cancer, you may be at risk for a hereditary form of cancer. See your doctor to discuss screening and preventive measures.

The colon makes up the last six feet of the large intestines and absorbs water, electrolytes and nutrients from food and transports them into the bloodstream.

Colon cancer is fairly common, affecting about 7 percent of the North American population. Although it is a life-threatening disease, it is a highly curable form of cancer if found early. Regular check-ups and screenings are very important.

Although the exact cause of colon cancer is unknown, certain risk factors have been identified that may increase your chance of developing the disease. These include:

  • Age — The majority of colon cancers are diagnosed in people aged 50 or older, although the disease affects all ages.
  • Bowel disease — A history of colorectal cancer, intestinal polyps and diseases such as chronic ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease increase your chance of developing colon cancer.
  • Diet and exercise — A diet high in fat, particularly from animal sources, and an inactive, sedentary lifestyle can increase your chance of developing colon cancer.
  • Ethnic background and race — Jews of Eastern European descent called, Ashkenazi Jews, have a higher rate of colon cancer. African-Americans and Hispanics have a higher death rate from colon cancer, which may be caused by insufficient screenings, poor diet and lack of exercise.
  • Family history/genetic factors — Specific genes have been identified that increase your chance of having colon cancer. If you have a strong family history of colorectal cancer, as defined by cancer or polyps in a first-degree relative younger than 60 or two first-degree relatives of any age, you're at increased risk for developing colon cancer.
  • Smoking and alcohol — Research suggests that smokers and heavy drinkers have an increased risk of developing colon cancer.

Common signs and symptoms of colon cancer include:

  • A change in bowel habits
  • Diarrhea, constipation or feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
  • Blood, either bright red or very dark in the stool
  • Stools that are narrower than usual
  • General abdominal discomfort such as frequent gas pains, bloating, fullness or cramps
  • Weight loss with no known reason
  • Constant tiredness
  • Vomiting

The treatment depends on the staging of the cancer. When colorectal cancer is caught at early stages (with little spread) it can be curable. However, when it is detected at later stages (when distant metastases are present) it is less likely to be curable. Surgery remains the primary treatment while chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy may be recommended depending on the individual patient's staging and other medical factors.