Diagnosing and Treating Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer. Those are two words no one wants to hear. Especially the second one. According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third most common cause of cancer death in the United States with nearly 143,000 new cases of the disease diagnosed in 2010. Fortunately, the death rate from colorectal cancer has been dropping over the last 20 years due to early screenings and improved treatments.

Undergoing testing to diagnose colorectal cancer may be necessary because of abnormal results from a screening exam or if there are symptoms of the disease, such as a change in bowel habits, abdominal pain, weakness, rectal bleeding or blood in the stool.

Diagnosis may begin with a complete medical history and physical examination. Endoscopic tests to check for colorectal polyps also may be necessary, including a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy (procedures used to see inside the colon and rectum), and imaging tests such as a barium enema, double contrast barium enema or virtual colonoscopy. A biopsy is done on any abnormal-looking tissues that are removed during a colonoscopy to confirm the diagnosis of colorectal cancer.

Other imaging tests may be required to determine if a suspicious area is cancerous, learn if the cancer has spread or find out if treatment has been effective. These tests include computed tomography, ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging, positron emission tomography and angiography.

Once colorectal cancer had been diagnosed, treatment will be determined based on the stage and type of cancer, how far it has spread, overall health, side effects of treatment and long-term prognosis.

  • Surgery usually is recommended for early stage colon cancer. The procedure calls for the removal of part of the colon and nearby lymph nodes. Some stage 0 or early stage 1 tumors can be taken out by removing the base of the polyp or the superficial cancer and a small margin of surrounding tissue
  • Radiation therapy usually in the form of external beam radiation focuses radioactive beams to the cancer or tumor bed area along with the draining lymph nodes.  It can be given before surgery to make a tumor smaller thus making surgery easier to perform.
  • Chemotherapy involves administering drugs either into a vein or orally.  Chemotherapy can be given before surgery usually with the addition of radiation therapy to shrink tumor.  Then it may also be needed after surgery if lymph nodes were found to be involved to prevent later recurrence. It is important to discuss potential side effects of treatment with your doctor. Most side effects should decrease after treatment, but steps can be taken to reduce or relieve them.

For more information about cancer, talk with your doctor or for a free physician referral to a specialist near you call 936-568-3289 / toll free 1-866-898-8446 or go to:    http://www.nacmedicalcenter.com/en-us/pages/physicianpage.aspx.

Telephone number for Loma Laird Cancer Center:  936-568-3541.