Colorectal Cancer

Types of Cancer

Colorectal Cancer

The rectum and the colon are an essential part of the human body that allow the body to produce and pass waste. Making up the first 5-6 feet of the large intestine is the colon, with the rectum making up the final 6 inches until the anus.

When the otherwise healthy cells within the lining of the rectum or colon begin to rapidly grow and change uncontrollably, a tumour can grow leading to a tumour and possibly colorectal cancer. This tumour can be either benign or cancerous and can take several years to spread. This spread can depend on environmental or family history factors.

Colorectal Polyps

Often, colorectal cancer begins as a noncancerous growth known as a polyp. This polyp grows on the inner wall of either the rectum or the colon as people grow older, which if not removed can lead to cancer. As such, the early detection and removal of a polyp before it becomes cancerous can prevent colorectal cancer. There are many types of polyps, with adenomatous polyps being those that can become cancerous. Typically, polyps are found during a colonoscopy as they often bulge into the colon creating a visible mound. There are polyps that are more difficult to find on a colonoscopy. Around 10% of polyps within the colon must be found using a dye to accentuate them as they are flat and more difficult to detect. Flat polyps have an increased risk of turning cancerous. A non-precancerous polyp are the hyperplastic polyps also found in the rectum and the colon.

Types of Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is used to describe cancer found both in the rectum and in the colon. The cancer is named based on the location from which it originates from, for example, cancer in the rectum is known as rectal cancer.

Typically, colorectal cancers are a tumour known as adenocarcinoma. This particular tumour is found in cells that line the tissue of both the rectum and the colon. Less common colorectal cancers can include lymphoma, gastrointestinal stromal tumour and neuroendocrine tumour of the gastrointestinal tract.

Signs and Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer

Understanding the symptoms of colorectal cancer can be an important factor in locating rectal or colon cancer in its early stages. This will lead to a higher success rate of treating the tumour. 

There are several possible symptoms of colorectal cancer. A patient may experience a range of these, or none at all. There are other reasons that a person may experience these symptoms, such as IBS or hemorroids, so it is important to note that if these occur this does not solely indicate cancer. However, if a person with suspected cancer does develop symptoms, they are often severe, changing and long lasting. It is important to speak with your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • Changing bowel movements
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • The feeling that the bowels do not empty completely
  • Blood in the stool that is either very dark or bright red
  • Narrow or thin stools
  • Abdominal discomfort including gas pains, bloating, craps and fullness
  • Fatigue
  • Unexplained iron-deficiency anemia

Typically, screening does not happen until a person is in their later years, however younger people are also at risk of developing colorectal cancer. If you have experienced any of the above symptoms for a number of weeks, or in a short time that you have seen a severe increase of symptoms, it is important to speak to your doctor and request a colonoscopy. The doctor will run a number of tests and ask questions to find your diagnosis. If/when cancer is diagnosed, one of the major treatments will be palliative care. This care works to relieve a patient from their symptoms and helps them live a more comfortable life whilst living with cancer.