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Colorectal Cancer

Most colon cancers are adenocarcinomas (cancers that begin in cells that make and release mucus and other fluids) and form in the tissues of the colon. The rectum is the last several inches of the largest intestine closest to the anus, and it is in these tissues that rectal cancer may form. Cancers that affect either of these organs may also be called colorectal cancer.

The exact causes of colorectal cancer are not known, however, there are several risk factors that increase a persons chance of developing colorectal cancer. These are age, diet, polyps, personal medical history, family medical history, and ulcerative colitis. Research shows that colorectal cancer develops gradually from benign polyps. Early detection and removal of polyps may help to prevent colorectal cancer. Research has also shown that changes in certain genes raise the risk of colorectal cancer. People who have increased risk factors should ask their doctors when to begin checking for colorectal cancer through testing. Some of these tests are a fecal occult blood test, sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, double contrast barium enema, and digital rectal exam.

Signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer include, change in bowel habits, diarrhea, constipation, and feeling that bowel does not empty completely. Other symptoms include blood in the stool, stools that are narrower than usual, abdominal discomfort, weight loss, constant tiredness, and vomiting. To find the cause of the symptoms the physician will evaluate your medical history, perform a physical exam, and order diagnostic tests. Some of the tests include: x-rays, sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, polypectomy, and biopsy. A biopsy is removing a sample of tissue to be sent to lab for a pathologist to look at under a microscope to be used to determine diagnosis. Once diagnosis is determined the doctor will want to know the stage or extent of the disease. Additional tests may be ordered to determine this.

Treatment of colorectal cancer depends on the size, location, and extent of the tumor, as well as patient’s general health. Patients are often treated by a team of specialists, including a gastroenterologist, surgeon, medical oncologist, and radiation oncologist. Several different types of treatment options can be used and are sometimes combined. These include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, biological therapy, and clinical trials. After diagnosis, a treatment plan that is best for you will then be decided upon by you and your healthcare team.

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