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A P Dubey

Colorectal cancer (CRC) involves the lowest and terminal-most part of the digestive system: the large intestine and the rectum. It is one of the top five cancers in our country, and is prevalent among both males and females.

Though the risk of developing CRC increases with age (50 years or older), it is becoming common even in young adults. Patients generally exhibit symptoms such as altered bowel habits, blood in stools or dark-colored stools, pain in the abdomen, flatulence, and fatigue. Having one or more of these symptoms demands evaluation by a doctor; often, a colonoscopy is required to have a clear videographic view of the large intestine and the rectum.

Cancerous growth, if any, is confirmed by a biopsy, followed by the staging of the disease by imaging techniques (CT or MRI).

Early-stage cancers (stages I to III) are completely curable with surgery and chemotherapy (radiotherapy is added in case of rectal cancers). Even in advanced or stage-IV cancers (where the cancer has spread to distant organs), significant improvement in disease control, quality of life, and survival can be achieved with chemotherapy and targeted therapy.

By adopting a healthy lifestyle, one can greatly reduce the risk of developing CRC. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables, abstinence from smoking and alcohol, and regular exercise help in keeping the disease at bay.

Having a family history of colon or rectal cancer increases the risk of developing colorectal cancer. A strong family history (two or more close relatives with colorectal cancer) requires possible genetic testing for timely detection and curbing of the disease.

This article has been authored by Dr. A P Dubey, MBBS, MD, DNB Medicine, DNB Medical & Haemato-Oncology.