BENGALURU: According to Indian Council of Medical Research statistics, colorectal cancer is one of the commonest cancers and effects approximately four out of every one lakh people. Colorectal or Colon cancer is a cancer that affects a person’s rectum, colon, or both, better relatable as the large intestine. The incidences of Colon cancer are on the rise among young adults, with poor dietary habits being one of the contributors.
The risk factors that can increase the chance of getting colorectal cancer are smoking, obesity, alcohol consumption, sedentary lifestyle, older age, and a diet high in fat, red meat, processed meat and low in fiber apart from genetic reasons. A diet too rich in red meat is associated with a higher risk of colon cancer. Also, processed non-vegetarian food products must also be avoided.
Some of the common symptoms of colorectal cancer that can be visibly noted are, frequent abdominal pain, bleeding, unexplained weight loss, diarrhea, constipation, tiredness or anemia. Keeping an eye on these signs is necessary to diagnose colon cancer at an early stage.Although each risk factor increases the chances of developing colorectal cancer, the exposure to multiple risk factors substantially increases ones chance of developing colorectal cancer. Most of the time the colon cancer develops in a non-cancerous growth called a polyp. The development of cancer from a polyp usually takes 10 or more years.
Colonoscopy is a test which is used to look inside the rectum and full length of colon. Screening for colon cancer using colonoscopy enables the doctors to identify the polyps either before it becomes cancer or at an early stage of cancer and have the polyp removed. This would reduce the chances of developing colon cancer by 90%. Depending upon the risk factors, it is recommended to undergo regular screening using colonoscopy once every 5 to 10 years following symptoms and family history.
Usually, a colonoscopy is good enough to determine any abnormality, however for inward growth, a biopsy is done to confirm or eliminate the suspicion of cancer. Once the diagnosis of cancer is confirmed, then a CT scan or a PET Scan is done to evaluate the extent to which the cancer has spread. And based on the report, oncologist will suggest the future course of treatment. The treatment of colorectal cancer requires a multidisciplinary approach, with multiple experts, as the treatment may involve surgery, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy and radiotherapy. People diagnosed and treated with colorectal cancer at an early stage have higher chance of cure and better outcomes compared to those who are diagnosed at later stages.
Prevention is always better than cure and one can reduce the risks of developing colorectal cancer by leading an active lifestyle. It is important to regular exercise and consume a rich plant-based diet comprising of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains, as well as fish. It is advisable to avoid processed meat and red meat as much as possible. Along with the above precautions, one should undergo periodic screening for colorectal cancer. One should be aware of the disease, share any symptoms, if any, with close ones and thus reduce the incidences of colon cancer by being alert.
(The author is a consultant, Medical Oncology, HCG Cancer Hospital)