About Colorectal Cancer
What is cancer?
Cancer is a group of diseases in which some of the body's cells become defective and multiply out of control. These abnormal cells form lumps - called tumours - and invade and damage the tissues and organs around them. They can also spread to other parts of the body and cause further damage.
About Colorectal - or bowel - cancer.
Cancers are distinguished from one another by the location in the body where they began - the primary site - and/or by the type of cell involved. The term colorectal cancer refers to the specific cancer arising from the inner surface lining of the bowel. The large bowel is part of the body’s digestive system. It includes the colon, rectum and anal canal.
There are other types of cancer which affect the large bowel (the colon and rectum) such as carcinoid tumour, tumour of the muscule wall and lymphoma - but these are much less common.
So, in most cases, colorectal cancer means adenocarcinoma of the colon and rectum.
Bowel cancer can be a slow-growing cancer. There are sometimes no symptoms in the early stages of the disease.
More common than you may think.
In Australia, colorectal cancer is the most common major organ malignancy. Since it affects men and women almost equally, it is actually more common than lung cancer (which affects mainly men), breast cancer (almost exclusively women) and prostate cancer (exclusively men). It is most common in people in their mid-sixties and older but it can affect younger people too.
What causes bowel cancer?
In a small number of cases, there appears to be a strong hereditary influence; but in many more cases, there is a subtle - but still real - increased risk amongst close family members. So the children, brothers, sisters and even parents of someone with colorectal cancer should consider themselves at increased risk of developing this disease and should be screened by means of regular colonoscopy. Your own doctor can advise you and your family members about this.
How the disease is treated.
One option for treatment is the complete removal of the tumour and surrounding tissues containing the related lymph node drainage. Your surgeon will provide the best advice on treatment options. You may even see a specially trained Colorectal Surgeon or General Surgeon.
Advances in treatment.
Perhaps the biggest change in the treatment of colorectal cancer over the last decade has been the increasing emphasis on multi-modality treatments which combine surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy to provide the very best rates of disease control and cure.
The close cooperation which now exists in many parts of the world between the various specialists such as Surgeons, Medical Oncologists and Radiation Oncologists has contributed to improved consistency and effectiveness of treatment.
Another important change has been the increased use of surgery for the treatment of the spread of colorectal cancer to the liver and lungs. Although the spread of cancer beyond the bowel and lymph nodes generally makes a cure difficult to achieve, the more aggressive use of surgery to remove these so-called secondary deposits has resulted in unexpected cures or, failing complete cure, useful prolongation of life, often for years at a time.
Your doctor will be best placed to determine which treatments are most appropriate for your specific case.
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