Medical studies say that colon cancer begins when healthy cells in the colon develop changes in their DNA.(Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Medical studies say that colon cancer begins when healthy cells in the colon develop changes in their DNA.(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

All you need to know about colorectal cancer

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and opting for regular screenings go a long way in keeping colorectal cancer at bay.
UPDATED ON MAR 02, 2020 10:26 AM IST

Rapid urbanisation and rising incomes are all signs of progress. However, the same has brought along a host of lifestyle diseases, including cancer. Counted among the sixth most common cancers diagnosed in India is colorectal cancer.

As the name suggests, the cancer starts in the colon or the rectum. Colon cancer and rectal cancer are often grouped together because they have many features in common.

Most colorectal cancers begin as a growth, called polyps, on the inner lining of the colon or rectum. Some of these polyps turn into cancer over a period of several years - these are adenomatous polyps and hyperplastic/inflammatory polyps. The former can be called a precancerous condition, while the latter (more common) are not precancerous. If cancer forms in a polyp, it can grow into the wall of the colon or rectum over time.

Colon cancer is mainly found in older adults, though it can happen at any age. Generally, it starts with small, benign polyps that form on the inside of the colon. Over time, some of them can turn into cancers.

Symptoms of colorectal cancer

Polyps are generally thin and may not produce as many symptoms. This is why it is critical to go for frequent screenings to prevent colon cancer. The treatment methods include surgery, radiation therapy, and immunotherapy, among others.

Some of the common symptoms of colorectal cancer are:

●Frequent changes in bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation or a change in the consistency of your stool

●Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool

●Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain

●A feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely

●Weakness or fatigue

●Unexplained weight loss

Generally, no symptoms are observed in the early stages of the disease.

Causes of colorectal cancer

It is difficult for doctors to point out what exactly causes colon cancer. Medical studies say that colon cancer begins when healthy cells in the colon develop changes in their DNA. A healthy cell grows and divides in an orderly way; when the DNA is damaged, cells just keep dividing, even when there’s no need. This accumulation of cells causes a tumor. Over time, the cancer cells grow in size and invade normal tissues.

Here are some factors that increase your risk of colorectal cancer:

Old age: While colorectal cancer can happen at any age, the majority of the patients are older than 50.

History of colorectal cancer or polyps: In case you have suffered from colon cancer or noncancerous colon polyps, you have a greater risk of colon cancer in the future.

Inflammatory intestinal issues: If you suffer from chronic inflammatory diseases of the colon, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, it puts you at a high risk of colorectal cancer.

Family history of colon cancer: You are highly prone to colorectal cancer if you have a family member who has suffered from it.

Poor lifestyle: People who are not too particular about their diets and lead a sedentary lifestyle are at a higher risk of colorectal cancer. That’s not all - people who smoke and indulge in heavy use of alcohol also have an increased risk of colon cancer.

Prevention of colorectal cancer

Medical professionals recommend that people over 50 years must get themselves regularly screened for colorectal cancer. Those who have a history of colon cancer in their family must get screening done at an early age.

Besides, making changes to your lifestyle can help in the prevention of colon cancer. Consume fruits, vegetables and whole grains on a regular basis to get your daily dose of nutrients. Additionally, do not indulge in frequent drinking and stop smoking. One must also try and incorporate some exercise most days of the week, for about 30 minutes.

The bottom line

Colorectal cancer can be prevented if you follow these steps regularly - maintain a healthy lifestyle and get regular screenings. As they say, ‘Prevention is better than cure’. Be brave and bold against colorectal cancer.

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