Colon and rectal cancer is one of the most common cancers, second only to lung cancer.
The estimated number of new cases in 2006 is 149,000 nationally. Colon
and rectal cancer has been responsible for about 15,000 deaths in the
U.S.A. The majority of cases occur after the age of 40 and are slightly
more common among women then men.
Cancer of the colon and rectum is one of the most curable forms of the
disease. When this type of cancer is detected early, the chances of
cure are excellent; almost 75% of patients can be cured and are able to
return to normal life. However, only about 40% actually survive because
of our human tendency to avoid diagnosis and treatment. Most people
find it embarrassing to discuss the symptoms, others ignore or dismiss
Colon and rectal cancers develop over a period of time and it is
possible to detect the disease long before symptoms develop. Early
detection of small cancers and polyps reduces the likelihood of major
surgery and often colostomy can be avoided. Warning signals like
bleeding from the rectum, blood in the stool, persistent changes in
bowel habits, abdominal pain, or unexpected weight loss, warrant an
immediate thorough examination by a physician. Patients with personal
or family history of colon and rectal cancer, polyps, colon and rectum
and inflammatory bowel disease, especially ulcerative colitis, are at a
high risk to develop colon and rectal cancer and require an examination
at regular and more frequent intervals.
For early detection of colon and rectal cancer in people without
symptoms or the previously mentioned risk factors, the American Cancer
Society recommends three tests as valuable aids. The digital rectal
examination performed by physicians in their office can detect up to
15% of cancers. This quick and inexpensive examination is recommended
once a year after the age of 40.
The second test, a stool blood slide test, detects hidden blood in the
stool. Polyps and early cancers before they become symptomatic, shed a
small amount of blood in the stool, not typically visible by the naked
eye. The specimen is obtained by the patient at home and returned for
examination. If any of the slides show signs of blood, further checking
as to its source is necessary. The American Cancer Society recommends
this test every year after age 50.
Proctosigmoidoscopy, also know as “Procto”, is a simple procedure
performed by a doctor in his office in which a hollow lighted tube is
used to inspect the rectum and lower colon. Currently, flexible
instruments are being used which are becoming more easily accepted by
the patients and provide better results. The American Cancer Society
recommends this examination every 5 years after the age of 50,
following two annual normal examinations.
Colonoscopy is recommended every 10 years after the age of 50. This
involves checking entire colon with a flexible instrument.
These guidelines apply to people without symptoms. If you have any of
the symptoms mentioned above, see your doctor right away.