By Maggie Allard, MD, Director of Adult & Family Medicine and Nicole S. Mitton, Grant Writer/Communications Specialist
Colorectal cancer is a disease where abnormal cells in the colon or rectum divide uncontrollably and form a malignant tumor. The colon and rectum are parts of our digestive system, which absorbs nutrients from food and water and stores solid waste until it passes out of the body.
Colorectal cancer is the third most common type of non-skin cancer in men (after prostate cancer and lung cancer) and women (after breast cancer and lung cancer). It is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States after lung cancer. In 2014, almost 140,000 people in the US will likely be diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and over 50,000 people will die from it (American Cancer Society).
The major risk factor for colorectal cancer is older age. However, several other factors are associated with increased risk, including:
- excessive alcohol use
- physical inactivity
- cigarette smoking
- diet (possibly)
People with a history of inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn disease also have a higher risk of colorectal cancer. People who have a family history of colorectal cancer or certain inherited conditions (such as Lynch syndrome and familial adenomatous polyposis) are at increased risk of colorectal cancer as well.
Most colorectal cancers begin as a polyp, which is an abnormal growth in the mucous tissue that lines the inner surface of the colon or rectum. Polyps may be flat or raised. There are two types of raised polyps:
- sessile polyps, which look like mushrooms without a stalk
- pedunculated polyps, which may grow like a mushroom with a stalk
Polyps are common in people older than 50 years of age, and most are benign/non-cancerous. However, a certain type of polyp known as an adenoma may develop into cancer.
Several screening tests can help doctors find colorectal cancer early. Colorectal cancer is usually more treatable when found before it causes symptoms or has a chance to spread. These tests allow growths that might otherwise become cancer to be detected and removed, so screening may be a form of cancer prevention, not just early detection.
A colonoscopy is the best screening test, and is done in a clinic or hospital. Some tests can be done at home, such as a fecal occult blood test (FOBT). FOBT is a stool kit that is available from labs, including the lab at Whittier Street Health Center. Your primary care doctor will tell you how to get ready for your test. Some people find the tests for colorectal cancer to be uncomfortable, but most agree that the benefits to their health outweigh the discomfort.
If you are over 50 years old and/or you are concerned about your risk for colorectal cancer, please call our Adult Medicine Department for an appointment at 617-989-3115, or schedule a visit online at http://wshc.org/make-an-appointment/.
To celebrate Colorectal Awareness Month, Whittier Street Health Center invites you to hear stories from patients who have completed a colonoscopy procedure, and to hear about several reliable screening options, including some screenings that cost as little as $25.00 and are covered by insurance. Please join us:
Event: Colorectal Awareness Month Patient Focus Group
Date: Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Time: 10:30 AM – 12:00 PM
Place: Whittier Street Health Center, Room 296