July 9, 2021
Colorectal Cancer FAQs
If you've been recently diagnosed with colorectal cancer, then it’s likely that you have many questions about the disease, your treatment, and your recovery. We believe that patients must know as much as possible about colorectal cancer so that they may make the most informed decisions regarding their health. Here are a few of the most frequently asked questions about colorectal cancer.
What is Colorectal Cancer?
Colorectal cancer is cancer that starts in the colon, rectum, or both. It usually starts in a polyp – a small group of cells that develops on the lining of the colon or rectum. Some polyps are not cancerous, some are pre-cancerous and can turn into cancer, and some already have turned into cancer.
How Common is Colorectal Cancer?
Excluding skin cancer, colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer in the United States, in both men and women. It is the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths when statistics for men and women are combined. There are about 150,000 new cases of colon and rectal cancer every year.
Case numbers have been dropping over the past 35 years because more people are getting screened for the disease. When polyps are found early, they can be removed before they turn into cancer.
What Causes Colorectal Cancer?
Doctors are not sure what causes most colorectal cancers. Healthy cells can change (mutate), causing them to grow and accumulate. They form a tumor and destroy nearby normal tissue. Colorectal cancer usually begins with a noncancerous clump of cells on the inside of the colon called polyps. These polyps can be benign and later develop into colon cancer.
What Is the Prognosis for Colorectal Cancer Patients?
The five-year survival rate for colon and rectal cancers is dependent on the extent of the cancer when it was found.
Localized - It does not appear that the cancer has spread outside of the colon or rectum.
Regional - The colon or rectal cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, usually in the groin.
Distant - The cancer has spread to other organs in the body, most commonly the liver, lungs or distant lymph nodes.
For localized colon cancer, the five-year survival rate is 91%! This is because treatment is provided before it can spread to other areas of the body. Regional colon cancer has a five-year survival rate of 72% and distant colon cancer’s five-year survival rate is 14%.
For rectal cancer, the five-year survival rate, according to the American Cancer Society’s data from 2016 is:
Localized - 89%
Regional - 72%
Distant - 16%
This data reinforces the importance of colorectal cancer screening to find anything unusual as early as possible.
Is Colorectal Cancer Hereditary?
Two-thirds of colorectal cancer diagnoses are in people with no family history of the disease. The other one-third of cases have a family member who was also diagnosed with colorectal cancer. There is a genetic condition called Lynch Syndrome that is connected to the development of colorectal cancer in about 2-4% of all cases. However, even if you do not test positive for Lynch Syndrome and you have a family member diagnosed with colorectal cancer you are at an increased risk. Talk to your doctor about the right colon cancer screening schedule for you. Learn more about colorectal cancer genetics.
Is Colorectal Cancer Curable?
Yes, colorectal cancer is curable in the early stages. Finding cancer (or pre-cancerous cells) early and treating them promptly gives you the best chance of a cure. Early treatment is easier on you (and less expensive) compared to late-stage cancer treatment.
However, if the tumor is advanced, or has spread to other parts of your body, it can be fatal. More than 50,000 people die of colorectal cancer every year in the United States.
Will I Need Surgery for Colorectal Cancer?
A lot of times colon cancer is found during a screening colonoscopy. Or, for some patients, during a more exploratory exam after suspicious polyps were found. Oftentimes the polyps are removed during this procedure. However, if the cancer has spread beyond the polyps a colectomy may be needed. This is the partial or total removal of the colon depending on how far the cancer has spread.
Will I Need a Colostomy After Colon Cancer Surgery?
A colostomy is a surgical operation that diverts the colon to an opening in the abdominal wall so that waste can be removed. A bag is placed at the opening to collect the bowel movements. For many patients with a partial colectomy this is temporary while the surgical site heals. The colon can then be reconnected for normal bowel movements. If the colon was completely removed a permanent colostomy or ileostomy bag is necessary.
How is Colorectal Cancer Treated?
For some patients surgery is all that’s needed to remove localized cancer cells. However, some cancer specialists will recommend radiation therapy to be sure any cancer cells left behind during surgery are also killed.
Other treatments for colorectal cancer include chemotherapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy.
Is There a Clinical Trial Available for Colon or Rectal Cancer?
Cancer Care Centers of Brevard participates extensively in clinical research at our locations along the Space Coast. Our patients have access to some of the latest colon and rectal cancer treatments through the clinical research trials. Talk to your oncologist about whether a trial might be right for you and your type of cancer.
Categories: Colorectal Cancer