Colon cancer affects the large intestine (colon), which makes up the lower portion of your digestive system, while rectal cancer affects the last section of your colon. Both cancers together are referred to as colorectal cancer. Colorectal cancer often begins as small polyps on your colon. That's why getting screened is one of the most important things you can do to safeguard your health. At Morton Plant Hospital, we offer a comprehensive range of services for the detection, diagnosis and treatment of colorectal cancer.
Risk Factors for Colorectal Cancer
There are a number of risk factors that can contribute to colorectal cancer, including:
- Family history - If one of your immediate family members has had colorectal cancer, you may be at an increased risk for the disease
- Intestinal conditions - If you have suffered from Crohn's disease or other intestinal inflammatory conditions, your risk for colorectal cancer may be higher
- Race - Studies shows that African-Americans are at a higher risk for developing colorectal cancer than other races
- Age - Generally, people over the age of 50 are more likely to develop colorectal cancer but the disease can occur in younger people also
- Lifestyle - Research shows that people who eat low fiber diets, are sedentary, smoke or are heavy drinkers may be more at risk of developing colorectal cancer
- Other cancers - If you have had radiation therapy for other cancers, your chances of developing colorectal cancer may be higher due to previous radiation in the abdominal area
Early Warning Signs of Colorectal Cancer
Although there are often no symptoms in the early stages of colorectal cancer, there are some basic warning signs you should be aware of:
- Blood in your stool or rectal bleeding
- Persistent cramps, gas or other abdominal pain
- Diarrhea, constipation or other changes in bowel movement over the course of a few weeks
- The sensation that your bowel doesn't completely empty out
- General feeling of tiredness or weakness
- Unintended weight loss
Screening and Diagnosis for Colorectal Cancer
It is recommended that people age 50 and over be screened for colorectal cancer but if you are experiencing any of the above early warning signs, your doctor may recommend testing at any age. At Carlisle Imaging Center, conveniently located inside the Axelrod Pavilion on Morton Plant's campus, we offer the following diagnostic screenings and imaging services for colorectal cancer:
Treatment Options for Colorectal Cancer
Once diagnosed with colorectal cancer, it's important to talk to your doctor about what stage the cancer is in and what your treatment options are. In many cases, two or more treatments may be used together to best combat colorectal tumors. Treatment options can include:
- Colonoscopy or laparoscopic surgery - If you're in an early stage, the doctor may have already removed the cancerous polyps during your colonoscopy. Other polyps can be removed during another colonoscopy or with laparoscopic surgery. This operation is done with a local anesthetic and is not as invasive as other types of surgery.
- Colectomy - If your cancer is more advanced, you may require a colectomy. This operation involves removing part of your colon and some of the tissue around it. In many cases, the healthy parts of your colon will then be reconnected and you will have bowel movements like you did before surgery. Morton Plant Hospital offers robotic colectomy to provide patients with a minimally invasive alternative to traditional surgery.
- Colostomy - If a colectomy is not an option, you may need a colostomy. This means you'll have an opening on your abdomen where your bowel empties waste into a bag. Depending on your situation, you may need the colostomy only until your colon heals or you may need it permanently. Robotic colostomy surgery is available at Morton Plant Hospital.
- Palliative surgery - If your cancer is in a very advanced stage, your doctor may decide to remove the blockages from your colon to make you more comfortable and to alleviate symptoms, but the cancer will not fully be removed or cured.
- Chemotherapy - This treatment, which involves drugs given in IV or pill form, is often used after surgery or to control the growth of the cancerous tumors. It is usually given in cycles, so you have time to recuperate for a few days between treatments. Patients can receive combination, regional, or systemic chemotherapy, in addition to targeted drug therapy, at Morton Plant Hospital's state-of-the-art outpatient infusion center in the Powell Pavilion.
- Radiation - This therapy, which involves using high-energy X-rays to pinpoint and destroy cancerous cells, is often used in conjunction with chemotherapy. Both external beam radiation therapy (EBRT) and intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) are available at Lykes Radiation Pavilion.
For a free physician referral, please call the BayCare Customer Service Center at (727) 462-7500 or find a specialist near you. You can also take our free online risk assessment for colon cancer.