The Facts About Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is another name for bowel cancer or colon cancer—one of the most common types of cancer, which begins in the large bowel (intestine), colon or rectum. Globally, colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer, making up about 10% of all cases.

This disease tends to develop very slowly, often over a period of up to ten years, before it starts to cause problems. Most bowel cancers start life as benign growths on the wall of the intestines that eventually become cancerous. The cells of the growth multiply out of all control and develop into a tumour, eventually causing the symptoms of bowel cancer. From here, the cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body, such as the liver and the lungs.

Spotting colorectal cancer

One of the difficulties in spotting this disease is that the key signs are very common complaints, caused by other underlying health issues. The key signs of colorectal cancer are:
• Blood in the stools
• Stomach pain
• Changes in bowel habits
• Tiredness and weight loss
• A lump in the stomach area

It’s not surprising that other people often confuse the symptoms of colorectal cancer with other problems.

Who’s most at risk?

Nearly 90% of people with colorectal cancer are over the age of 60. The risk of developing this type of cancer is also heightened in people who eat a diet rich in red and processed meat and one low in fibre.

Being inactive, overweight or obese also puts you at higher risk, as does smoking or drinking alcohol to excess. Anyone with a family history of the disease should also be wary.

Fighting colorectal cancer

Bowel cancer claims many lives each year. It’s the second biggest cancer killer in Europe.
70-80% of people with bowel cancer will live at least one year after diagnosis. More than half of those diagnosed will live at least another 10 years.
Many countries have introduced routine screening for colorectal cancer in older people. Screening can identify non-cancerous growths or polyps that may develop into cancer. When caught at an early stage, treatment through surgery is usually successful with 90% of people being cured.

Most people undergoing treatment for colorectal cancer will initially have surgery to remove the cancerous part of the intestines, colon or rectum. This is often followed up with chemotherapy and radiotherapy in an attempt to kill off the remaining cancer cells.

Newer treatments include a group of anti-cancer drugs called targeted, or biological therapies. These drugs work by interfering with the cancer cells’ ability to grow and multiply. Not all types of bowel cancer respond to these drugs, though, and they’re not yet widely available.

As with all cancers, there’s significant ongoing research into developing new treatments. Current research is looking to understand the genetics behind colorectal cancer , test the success of immunotherapy, and trialling new treatments which are matched to the patient’s subtype of cancer. There’s plenty of hope for the future.