With its more than 1.8 million new cases diagnosed each year, colorectal cancer, which develops in the large intestine, is the third most common type of cancer in the world.
Cancer is the most feared disease in the world . And not only because of its severity, the (still) lack of a cure and the severity of therapies and treatments, but also because of its high frequency. And it is that it is estimated that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 2 men will develop some type of cancer throughout their lives.
Statistics indicate that about 18 million cancers are diagnosed worldwide each year. In any case, of the more than 200 types of cancer that exist, 13 million of these 18 correspond to one of the 20 most frequent types of cancer.
The lung and breast are those that have a higher incidence. In fact, these two alone already account for 25% of all cancer diagnoses. Then, the colon, the prostate, the skin, the stomach, the liver or the esophagus are other of the most common.
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In today’s article we will focus on analyzing the nature of one of them: the colorectal. This cancer is the one that develops in the large intestine and has a very high incidence. Therefore, we will study both the causes of its development and the associated symptoms , as well as the best ways to prevent its appearance.
What is colorectal cancer?
Colorectal cancer is a malignant tumor that develops in the cells of the large intestine (colon), that is, in the final part of the digestive system, although it can reach the anal rectum. With its 1.8 million new cases diagnosed annually, it is the third most common type of cancer in the world, only behind lung and breast.
Like any other type of cancer, it consists of an abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells in our own body that, due to mutations in their genetic material (which can occur by mere biological chance or be caused by injuries we do), lose their ability to regulate your rate of division.
When these mutations occur and their reproductive rhythm is altered, cells divide more than they should and lose their functionality, giving rise to a mass of cells with morphological and physiological characteristics different from those of the tissue or organ in which they are found. .
This mass of cells is called a tumor. In case it does not affect health, does not spread to other parts of the body and, ultimately, does not cause damage, we are talking about a benign tumor. If, on the contrary, it begins to damage the health of the person and<tok2>gers her life, we are facing a malignant tumor or cancer.
Therefore, the colorectal is cancer that develops in the cells of the large intestine, the final portion of the digestive system where the absorption of water and compaction of the stool occurs. The triggers that lead colon cells to undergo the mutations that lead to the formation of the malignant tumor are not yet clear.
This explains the difficulty in preventing its development and, consequently, its high incidence. However, knowing its first clinical symptoms and signs is easier to detect quickly and, therefore, to start treatments when they can still be highly effective.
The main problem with colon cancer is that its causes are not very clear . There is no clear trigger, such as smoking with lung cancer or infection with the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and cervical cancer. In the case of colorectal cancer, although there are risk factors, there is no clear cause that explains its appearance.
What is known is that, as with most cancers, their risk of developing it increases with age, because the older the person is, the more likely it is that they have accumulated enough mutations in the cells to give rise to these tumors.
In any case, despite the fact that there is no clear trigger, there are risk factors, that is, lifestyles or circumstances that make the person more prone (statistically speaking) to suffer this type of cancer.
Sedentary lifestyle, being over 50 years old, having suffered from inflammatory bowel diseases, having a family history (not all colon cancers are inherited, but there are times when they are), eating a diet low in fiber and high in fat, suffer from diabetes, be obese, smoke, binge drink, be African-American (due to simple genetics, African-Americans are at higher risk of developing it), eat a poor diet, eat a lot of processed meat (red is not yet clear if it really risk increases), having a history of colorectal polyps …
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All these situations, although they are not as direct a relationship as the one we see, for example, in smoking and lung cancer, they do increase the risk of colorectal cancer. Therefore, everything that is to get away from risk situations as much as possible, will reduce the probability of suffering it. Although it must be clear that this is not always possible, which explains why colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer in the world.
As in practically all types of cancer, colorectal cancer does not show signs of its presence until advanced stages . Furthermore, when they appear, clinical signs are highly dependent on the exact location of the tumor, the person’s general health, size, and many other factors.
And not only this. And it is that often, these symptoms can be confused with those of other diseases or minor intestinal pathologies. Therefore, it is very important to be attentive to the most common symptoms and seek medical attention if there is any doubt that it is cancer, especially if any of the risk factors mentioned above are met.
Be that as it may, the most common symptoms of colon cancer are the following: blood in the stool, thin stools, tenderness and / or pain in the lower abdomen, diarrhea, constipation, unexplained weight loss, weakness and fatigue, tiredness constant, gas, abdominal cramps, rectal bleeding, changes in stool consistency …
Keep in mind that not all people suffer from all these symptoms. Some will experience a few. Therefore, it is important to see a doctor as soon as at least one of these clinical signs is observed.
As we have said, prevention is difficult since the causes of developing colorectal cancer are not exactly known . But that does not mean that it is impossible. And although it is not prevention itself, it is best to have routine exams once you are in your 50s, because detecting it in the early stages can save a person’s life.
In addition, those who meet the risk factors mentioned above, should consider starting to undergo these tests even before 50. But prevention is not only focused on detecting it quickly, because changes in lifestyle can really prevent its development.
With the advice that we will present below, the risk of colon cancer, although the genetic factor cannot be controlled and there will always be susceptibility, it can decrease enormously. And most of these changes are very easy to apply.
Playing sports regularly, staying at the right weight for your age and height, not smoking (and if you smoke, quitting), moderate alcohol consumption, getting enough sleep, including good amounts of vegetables, fruits and whole grains in the diet (to have the necessary fiber intake), reduce fat consumption, avoid the consumption of processed meats and reduce redness and, ultimately, follow a healthy lifestyle.
Therefore, living a healthy life greatly reduces the risk of developing this and other types of cancers. But since we cannot control genetics and biological chance, there is always a chance of suffering it. And in case this happens, you have to remember that treatments and therapies, as long as it is diagnosed quickly before the tumor has metastasized, are really effective.
In fact, when colon cancer is found when it has not yet spread to other organs, the survival rate is more than 90%. When it has already metastasized, survival is reduced to 14% .
But it is important to remember that, if we do routine tests and exams and go to the doctor at the slightest symptom, it is practically certain that it can be detected when the treatments can still guarantee this high survival.
Generally, the treatment of colorectal cancer consists of a surgery to remove the tumor. If the cancer is small, has been detected quickly and is in an area that allows it, this surgery can be performed in a very minimally invasive way, performed by colonoscopy or through laparoscopic surgery (removing it through small incisions in the abdominal wall ).
The prognosis for these patients is very good. And in the event that this minimally invasive surgery cannot be performed, somewhat more complex and invasive surgical removal operations can still be performed but still have a fantastic prognosis.
If the cancer has been detected at a stage where removal surgery is not sufficient, it may be necessary to resort to chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, or a combination of these. Although they are obviously more aggressive therapies, they are effective in most cases.