Colon and rectum are vital parts of digestive system. Colon is responsible for receiving digested food, extracting nutrients from it, and passing the waste material to rectum. Rectum temporarily stores the waste products that need to be excreted from body via anus. The term ‘colorectal cancer’ describes a type of fatal disease that may begin either from colon or rectum and negatively affect large intestine due to multiplication of unusual tissues and cells. This harmful disease may spread in entire stomach and other body organs as well if remain untreated for a long time. It may also result in death of respective patients. Therefore, patients must visit well-qualified oncologists at the earliest in order to avoid any unfortunate circumstances.
Causes and Risk Factors for Colorectal Cancer
Precise cause which leads to colorectal cancer is still not known. However, medical practitioners believe that the following risk factors are mainly involved in the development of colorectal cancer.
- Age – Chances of getting colorectal cancer increases when an individual crosses 50 years of age.
- Being Overweight – Obese people are more prone to getting colorectal cancer as compared to others.
- Heavy Alcohol Consumption – It has been observed that heavy drinkers have a greater likelihood of getting colorectal cancer in comparison with other people.
- Smoking – Smoking significantly raises the chances of occurrence of various types of cancers including colorectal cancer.
- Improper Diet – People who eat red and processed meat, fried food items, and a diet that has less amount of vegetables and fruits are at higher risk of developing colorectal cancer.
- Faulty Genes and Medical History – Genetic disorders and family history of colorectal cancer may give rise to colorectal cancer at some instant. In addition to this, patients suffering from inherited syndromes like adenomatous polyposis, Lynch syndrome, and Gardner syndrome are also at higher risk of developing this dreadful disease.
Signs and Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer may result in the following signs and symptoms. Patients must stay careful and visit an experienced doctor immediately on encountering such abnormal symptoms.
- Persisting Constipation and Diarrhea – Persisting constipation and diarrhea could be an indication of underlying colorectal cancer. Patients should not neglect this warning sign and consult a cancer specialist at the earliest.
- Bloody Stools – Bloody or black colored stools is the most prominent sign of colorectal cancer.
- Abdominal Bloating and Cramps – Patients struggling with colorectal cancer are likely to experience abdominal bloating and cramps more often.
- Extreme Weakness – Fatigue or extreme weakness is the most common symptom associated with colorectal cancer.
- Loss of Appetite – Loss of appetite is a clear indication of colorectal cancer. Patients must not ignore this symptom and seek a prompt medical help.
- Unintended Weight Loss – A sudden loss of weight without any physical effort or exercising could be related to various types of cancers including colorectal cancer.
- Jaundice – Patients with an unrecognized colorectal cancer may encounter a severe problem of jaundice that can be identified with yellowing of skin and eyes.
Diagnosing Colorectal Cancer
Patients experiencing above-explained signs should start searching for highly qualified as well well-versed oncologists. During the initial meeting, doctors may investigate regarding the abnormal signs that are bothering patients. They may also ask for detailed medical history report of patients. In addition to this, respective doctors may order the given evaluation tests for proper identification as well as successful treatment of patient’s condition.
- Colonoscopy – Colonoscopy procedure can inspect the inner lining of colon and rectum with high accuracy. During colonoscopy, patients just need to relax and lie in a comfortable position. Respective doctors give sedatives to minimize any discomfort and uneasiness from patient’s end. They carefully insert a thin and camera possessing advanced device known as ‘colonoscope’ into rectum of patients. The high-resolution camera captures internal images and guides doctors to reach colon. In this way, they thoroughly view the entire region and check for the signs of colorectal cancer.
- Biopsy – Biopsy test is quite a simple method that can help in detection of abnormal cancerous cells in colon and rectum. Doctors give sedatives to patients before beginning biopsy. Once patients are relaxed, they insert thin medical instruments in patient’s rectum to derive a specimen of internal tissues and cells. They send the sample to a sophisticated medical laboratory for analysis. They may use an ‘endoscope’ to serve the purpose. Endoscope has a camera that can help in achieving better results.
- Imaging Tests – Doctors may order tests like computerized tomography (CT scan), ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to confirm the diagnosis. These tests are capable of delivering high-quality images of patient’s colon, rectum, and nearby structures. During these imaging tests, patients are exposed to radiation emitting devices that generate pictures.
- Blood Tests – Blood tests may prove beneficial in determining the presence of cancerous cells in patient’s colon and rectum. Doctors may take a sample of blood from patient’s body and consign it to a laboratory for proper analysis.
Stages of Colorectal Cancer
The given points describe main stages of colorectal cancer. Likelihood of survival of patients decreases gradually with the advancement of colorectal cancer.
- Stage 1 – Stage 1 is the developmental stage of colorectal cancer. This stage indicates that cancerous cells and tissues have started to grow in colon and rectum area of large intestine.
- Stage 2 – This stage indicates that cancer has started to invade in the layers as well as to nearby tissues of colon and rectum.
- Stage 3 – Third stage is considered to be an advanced stage as cancerous cells tend to multiply and spread rapidly in entire large intestine, lymph nodes, and nearby organs.
- Stage 4 – This is terminal stage of colorectal cancer. Cancer may spread to distant body parts and result in disabling conditions. Possibility of patient’s survival is least in this stage.
Treatment Options for Colorectal Cancer
The given points elaborate some of the main treatment options for colorectal cancer according to the stage of disease.
- Surgery for Colorectal Cancer – Colorectal surgery can be performed to remove cancerous tissues and cells in early stages. In most instances, such operation is performed under general anesthesia to reduce pain and other complications that patients may have to face. Patients will be sleepy throughout the complete colorectal surgery. Doctors may make incisions around abdomen and remove the particular portion of colon or rectum where cancerous cells have started to grow. Respective oncologists make sure they spare the healthy areas of large intestine. At the end, they re-attach the healthy region carefully. In advanced stages, surgery for colorectal cancer may also be implemented along with other therapies like chemotherapy and radiation therapy for obtaining desired results.
- Radiation Therapy for Colorectal Cancer – Radiation therapy for colorectal cancer is mainly implemented for second and third stage. It may be given alone or in combination of surgery and chemotherapy. Colorectal cancer radiation therapy involves the use of a high-end medical device that emits sharp and focused beams of photon and x-rays that destroys cancerous cells in colon and rectum effectively. Patients will have to lie in a comfortable manner to undergo this painless yet powerful treatment. Patients may be asked to undergo this treatment several times. Each radiation therapy session will depend on the severity and spread of harmful cells in large intestine.
- Ablation for Colorectal Cancer – Ablation for colorectal cancer is performed to treat patients whose colorectal cancer has spread to liver and other organs and cannot be cured by surgical treatment. Colorectal cancer ablation involves various techniques such as radiofrequency ablation, cryotherapy, and ethanol ablation. Radiofrequency ablation for colorectal cancer involves the use of a device called as ‘probe’. This probe is inserted in skin and radio waves are passed through probe to destroy harmful cells. On the contrary, cryotherapy uses freezing and destroying technique. Doctors pass extremely cold gases to freeze and kill cancer cells from their root. Whereas, ethanol therapy involves use of concentrated alcohol for wiping out cancerous cells. Doctors directly inject ethanol to serve the purpose.
- Chemotherapy for Colorectal Cancer – Chemotherapy for colorectal cancer is generally preferred for patients in third and final stage of colorectal cancer. During chemotherapy, patients will be given certain anti-cancer medicines that can help destroy underlying harmful cells in colon and rectum. They may give these drugs in the form of injection or sometimes, they may directly ask patients to take them orally. These drugs are highly powerful and its dosage is determined on the basis of requirement of patients.
- Targeted Therapy for Colorectal Cancer – Targeted therapy for colorectal cancer is somewhat similar to chemotherapy. However, this method differs in terms of drugs that are used. Colorectal targeted therapy specifically kill the cells that helps in multiplication of undesired cells in rectum and colon. Targeted drugs do not kill other healthy cells. These drugs are given via injection every three to four weeks to patients suffering from advanced stage of colorectal cancer. Targeted drugs may be given in combination with chemo drugs for long-term results.
- Immunotherapy for Colorectal Cancer – Immunotherapy for colorectal cancer involves use of certain powerful medicines that helps patient’s body in identifying and destroying the harmful cells in their colon and rectum. It mainly works on the principle of making immune system capable of fighting cancerous cells. Doctors may inject drugs directly or provide them in form of pills. Immunotherapy for colorectal cancer is mainly given in advanced stages where no other option can help in reducing the symptoms of colorectal cancer. Colorectal cancer immunotherapy may not be suitable for every patient. Doctors will check patient’s condition and determine whether colorectal immunotherapy can help their condition.
Risks and Complications Associated with Colorectal Cancer Treatments
The following are the major risks and complications associated with colorectal cancer treatments.
- Surgery for Colorectal Cancer – Bleeding at incision site, severe wound or injury, clotting of blood, fever, and abdominal pain are some major complications associated with colorectal cancer surgery.
- Radiation Therapy for Colorectal Cancer – Fatigue, nausea, stool leakage, bowel incontinence, and bladder inflammation are the main complications associated with colorectal cancer radiation therapy.
- Ablation for Colorectal Cancer – Colorectal cancer ablation may result in complications such as nausea, abdominal pain and bleeding.
- Chemotherapy for Colorectal Cancer – Hair loss, mouth sores, diarrhea, abdominal bleeding, fatigue and loss of appetite are potential risks associated with colorectal cancer chemotherapy.
- Targeted Therapy for Colorectal Cancer – Targeted therapy for colorectal cancer may give rise to holes in colon, headaches, kidney or heart problems, and severe infection.
- Immunotherapy for Colorectal Cancer – Colorectal cancer immunotherapy is likely to cause problems like shortness of breath, skin rashes, constipation and loss of appetite.
Patients must immediately call respective doctors on observing such complications during recovery period. Otherwise, the problem may get worse and require additional treatments.
Recovery Following Colorectal Cancer Treatment
Full recovery is highly dependent on the specific type of treatment which is used, stage of cancer, and overall health status of patients. Patients need to take care of themselves throughout the postoperative phase in order to ensure a speedy recovery. They may need to take certain medicines to cope up with uneasiness and body pain after completion of their colorectal surgery or any other treatment. Following healthy habits such as performing exercises as instructed by surgeons and eating a nutritious diet are key factors that will help patients in regaining the lost strength. Most importantly, they will need to visit doctor’s clinic regularly for follow-up care sessions. It will not only aid a smooth recovery but also help in minimizing the chances of recurrence of colorectal cancer in future.
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