March is designated as colorectal cancer awareness month. This year, about 148,000 people in the United States will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer. This disease affects both men and women. Today, the average person has about a 5 % chance of developing colorectal cancer during their lifetime.
Colorectal Cancer: Where It Hits
This disease occurs in the large intestine and rectum. The colon is a muscular tube that is about five feet long. It absorbs water and nutrients from food. The rectum, the lower six inches of the digestive tract, serves as a holding place for stool, which then passes out of the body.
Colorectal Cancer: How It Develops
The colon is divided into four sections: the ascending colon, transverse colon, descending colon, and sigmoid colon. Most colon cancers arise in the sigmoid colon — the portion just above the rectum. They usually start in the innermost layer and can grow through some or all of the several tissue layers that make up the colon and rectum.
The extent to which a cancer penetrates the various tissue layers determines the stage of the disease. Most cancers grow slowly over a period of several years, often beginning as small benign growths called polyps. Removing these polyps early, before they become malignant, is an effective means of preventing the development of disease.
Colorectal cancer does not usually produce symptoms early in the progress of the disease. Symptoms are dependent upon the site of the primary tumor. Here are the typical symptoms:
- bright red or very dark blood in the stool
- a change in the frequency of bowel movements
- constipation, or a feeling that the bowel doesn’t empty completely
- stools that are narrower than usual
- general abdominal discomfort, such as frequent gas pains, bloating, and/or cramps
- weight loss with no known reason
- constant tiredness
Since the mid-1980s, the colorectal cancer survival rate has been increasing,. This is due to increased awareness and screening. By finding polyps and cancer in the earlier stages, it is easiest to treat. Improved treatment options have also contributed to a rise in survival rates.
The survival rates depend on what stage the disease was discovered. Here are the statistics:
- If found at the local stage, the survival rate is 90%.
- Five-year survival rates are at 71%.
- Detection of colon cancer at Stage 4, only has a survival rate of 14 percent.
There are currently more than one million colorectal cancer survivors alive in the United States.
If you haven’t had a colon check up in the last few years, now is the time to make an appointment to get checked. Don’t put it off, this is a serious disease.