Your colon and rectum are at the tail end of your digestive system. Their functions are interrelated: the colon absorbs fluids and undigested food to help form stool; the rectum then passes that stool from your body. Any malignant (cancerous) growth in the tissues of the colon or rectum is known as colorectal cancer.
According to the National Cancer Institute, colorectal cancer, also called bowel cancer, is the 3rd most common type of cancer in men and women in the U.S. But, regular medical screenings including colonoscopies (tests that allow doctors to see the inner lining of your rectum and colon) have improved the odds of finding precancerous conditions like polyps (abnormal tissue growths) and removing them before they become cancerous tumors. Through early detection, this type of cancer is highly curable.
Colorectal Cancer Symptoms
The most telltale sign of colorectal cancer is having blood that is either bright red or very dark in your stool. Another symptom is a change in bowel habits including a feeling that the bowel is not emptying all the way, excessive diarrhea or constipation. Some people develop gastrointestinal symptoms including: frequent gas pain, feeling bloated or cramps. Others develop abnormal stool elimination including stools that are narrower than usual. Unexplained vomiting or weight loss and fatigue may also be symptoms of colorectal cancer.
Colorectal Cancer Risk Factors
- Age 50 or older
- African descent
- Women who have had breast, ovary or uterine cancer
- Personal or family history of polyps
- Irritable bowel disease, ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
- Diets high in animal protein and saturated fats and low in fiber
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Heavy smoking and/or alcohol use
- Lack of scheduling regular colonoscopies to screen for polyps
Types of Colorectal Cancer
- Adenocarcinoma – Cancer that begins in cells that make and release mucus and other fluids. 95% of colorectal cancers are adenocarcinomas.
- Carcinoid – Cancerous tumors that begin in the hormone-producing cells of the intestine
- Gastrointestinal Stromal – Cancerous tumors that begin colon wall cells
- Lymphomas – Cancers of the immune system cells that typically start in lymph nodes but may also start in the colon or rectum
- Sarcomas – Cancerous tumors that start in the muscle and connective tissue in the wall of the colon. This type of colorectal cancer is very rare.
How Colorectal Cancer is Diagnosed
The cancer specialists at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson and the Jefferson Colon and Rectal Cancer Center work as a team to confirm your diagnosis. Our thorough examination begins with a discussion about your symptoms and a review of your medical history. We employ a series of diagnostic imaging tests to examine the inside of your bowel. Many of these tests can detect cancer during its earliest stages when the chances for a cure are much higher.
If you think you may be at an increased risk of developing cancer because of your genetics, the experts at Jefferson's Clinical Cancer Genetics Service provide genetic risk assessment, genetic counseling and genetic testing.
Our colorectal surgeons, medical oncologists, geneticists and radiologist work as a team to recommend a personalized treatment plan based on your cancer’s size, location, the stage of the cancer, whether or not the malignancy is recurrent and your overall state of health.
Our specialists may recommend a combination of treatments including:
- Surgery – Removing the affected malignant tumors and nearby lymph nodes. If the cancer is more advanced, surgeons may remove part or all of the colon or rectum.
- Chemotherapy – Using anticancer drugs to kill cancer cells
- Intensity-modulated Radiation Therapy – Also called IMRT, this therapy uses external energy to kill cancer cells
- Targeted Drug Therapy – Using drugs that target specific defects that allow cancer to grow
- Experimental Treatments – You may be eligible to receive experimental treatments through clinical trials conducted at Jefferson on an ongoing basis.
Why Choose Jefferson for Colorectal Cancer?
Jefferson’s Colon and Rectal Cancer Center and the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson are your Philadelphia area resources for nationally-recognized oncology expertise. We’re one of only 69 National Cancer Institute NCI-designated Cancer Centers in the U.S., and we are ranked as one of the nation’s best hospitals for cancer treatment by U.S.News & World Report.
We’re also a BlueCross/Blue Shield Blue Distinction Center for complex and rare cancers based on our surgical case volume. Through state-of-the-art screenings, research and clinical trials, our world-renowned researchers are pioneering new approaches to cancer treatments and designing effective cancer prevention strategies. At Jefferson, we not only offer our patients best-in-class colorectal cancer medical services, our compassionate care includes a support program to meet your emotional and psychological needs, too.
Clinical trials are the best way patients can receive new therapies and procedures. To find out if a clinical trial might be right for you, ask your health care provider or contact the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center Clinical Research Management Office at 215-955-1661.
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