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Colorectal Cancer: What Should You Know?

Posted on: 03/17/2021

by Dadrie Baptiste, MD

According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in both men and women. One in 22 men and one in 24 women will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in their lifetime. Increased awareness and screening are the cornerstones to early detection and treatment. Together these facilitate improved outcomes.

Are you at risk?
There are several factors that may increase the risk of cancers of the colon and rectum. Some of these are genetic and some are acquired and can be modified. These risk factors include:
 Family history of colorectal cancers
 Personal history of colorectal cancers
 Hereditary polyp syndromes
 Chronic inflammatory bowel diseases including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
 Diabetes
 Physical inactivity
 Obesity
 Diets high in processed and red meats
 Smoking
 Heavy alcohol consumption

How is it detected?
Colorectal cancer usually develops from slow growing polyps. Early detection and removal of polyps decreases the likelihood of a cancer developing. Screening increases the chance that, if present, cancers can be found at earlier stages when they are easier to treat. Screening begins at age 50 for individuals at average risk, and may begin earlier for individuals who have risk factors for colorectal cancer development. Screening for individuals of African descent should begin at age 45. There are many methods available for colorectal cancer screening. These can be divided into visual screening exams of which colonoscopy is the gold standard and most commonly used, and stool-based tests which are performed at home. Each test has benefits and limitations. You should discuss the available screening methods with your doctor to determine which test is appropriate for you, as well as when your screening should begin.

How is it treated?
There are many treatment options for colorectal cancer. Decisions for treatment are made by patients along with their physicians. Your doctor may work together with a team of other specialists including surgeons, medical and radiation oncologists to determine the treatment options available to you. The specific treatment plan developed will depend on several factors including the size of the tumor, its location and whether or not the cancer has spread through or away from the colon. Most patients will undergo diagnostic imaging including x-rays, ultrasounds, CT scans, and MRIs. First line treatment usually involves surgery to remove the cancer. These surgeries are often performed in a minimally invasive fashion with a laparoscopic or robotic approach. Studies have shown that minimally invasive approaches are associated with reduced pain, length of hospital stay and wound complications, all of which improve patient experience and promotes a quicker return to regular activity. Additional treatments such as chemotherapy and/or radiation may be recommended depending on the stage of the cancer which is determined by size, depth, and spread. Chemotherapy uses drugs to destroy cancer cells while radiation utilizes energy sources to do the same. For advanced cancers which have spread or large cancers, chemotherapy or radiation maybe recommended as the first line therapy rather than surgery.

The most important steps that you can take are to be aware of your risk and to get screened. Visit your healthcare provider to discuss your options.

Dr. Baptiste is a general and colorectal surgeon with Bradford Regional Medical Center and Olean General Hospital’s Foothills Medical Group. She earned a medical degree at Washington University School of Medicine, completed a general surgery internship and residency at Indiana University School of Medicine and a colon and rectal surgery fellowship at the William Beaumont Hospital/Oakland University. She is board certified by the American Board of Surgery and is experienced in a variety of surgical procedures including, abdominal colectomy, colostomy, intestinal obstruction, endoscopy, fistula, rectal lesion, gastric operations, IV access procedures, central venous catheter and ports, biopsies, hernias, gallbladder, appendectomy, and surgery of the small and large intestines.

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