Dr. Cathy Eng spoke to the MS/Cancer SHG members on their monthly conference call about screening, diagnosis and treatment of colorectal cancer.
Dr. Eng is an Associate Professor of Medical Oncology at the Department of Gastrointestinal Medical Oncology at the UT MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. She is the associate medical director of the Colorectal Center and the principal investigator of several clinical trials evaluating the use of cytotoxic treatment and targeted therapy in colorectal cancer and anal cancer.
Colon cancer and rectal cancer sometimes are grouped together and called colorectal cancer. Not counting skin cancers, colorectal cancers are the third most common type of cancer in the United States.
In America, one in 19 will develop colon or rectal cancer. When colon cancer is diagnosed early, it has an almost 90 percent chance for cure.
Dr. Eng reported that colorectal cancers grow slowly and usually start as polyps, which are overgrowths of tissue in the colon lining. Colon cancer may start within a polyp, but not all polyps develop into cancer.
The survival rate for colon cancers has increased for the past 15 years. Because of screening, polyps often are found and removed before they become cancer. Also, treatments have become more advanced and less invasive.
Colon Cancer Screening
Dr. Eng said that MD Anderson recommends the following screening guidelines for people at average risk with no colorectal cancer symptoms. Tests can help diagnose colon cancer or find out if it has spread.
Beginning at age 50, men and women should have a colonoscopy every 10 years. Polyps can be removed during the test. If a person has a first-degree relative who has been diagnosed with colorectal cancer, screening should be done 10 years earlier than his or her original age of diagnosis.
Dr. Eng said, “If a test shows you have colon cancer, different treatment options are available depending on the stage and size of the tumor.”
Colon cancer may be treated with surgery alone, surgery and chemotherapy and/or other treatments. Chemotherapy and radiation may be administered if consistent with a rectal cancer.
The type of surgery depends on the stage and location of the tumor. A surgeon may perform surgery by laparoscopy using a minimal invasive technique. Another type of surgery for colon cancer is a hemicolectomy. The area of the colon where the cancer is, and some healthy surrounding tissue, is removed.
Drugs are given by mouth (pills) or intravenously (injected into a vein). Chemotherapy may be used to help shrink the cancer before surgery, keep a patient cancer free after surgery or prolong life when surgery is not an option.
Targeted therapies are used for certain types of colon cancer. They stop cancer cell growth by interfering with certain proteins and receptors or blood vessels that supply the tumor with what it needs to grow, survive and spread.
The primary type of radiation therapy in rectal cancer is a 3D-conformal radiation therapy, several radiation beams are given in the exact shape of the tumor.
Colon cancer prevention:
Have regular screening tests
Maintain a healthy weight
Eat a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables
Drink alcohol in moderation
Dr. Eng reminded MS/Cancer participants, “March is colorectal cancer month. This is the most preventable cancer so we encourage people to undergo screening.”
Symptoms of colon cancer may include:
Blood in the stool or toilet after a bowel movement
Diarrhea or constipation that does not go away
A change in size or shape of stool
Discomfort or urge to have a bowel movement when there is no need
Abdominal pain or a cramping pain in your lower stomach
Bloating or full feeling
Change in appetite
Weight loss without dieting
These symptoms usually do not mean you have colon cancer. But if you notice one or more of them for more than two weeks, see your doctor.