Treating colon cancer can be effective with early screenings and detection

Symptoms of colorectal cancer aren’t always obvious, which is why experts stress the importance of early detection through screenings. (Pexels.)

Did you know that March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month?

Colorectal cancer is also the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States for both men and women.

“Colorectal cancer doesn’t always show symptoms. You could have precancerous polyps or colorectal cancer and not even know it,” said Dr. Amit K. Agarwal, FACS, a colon and rectal surgeon with UT Physicians.

So, what does that mean?

Screenings are recommended for adults starting at age 45. More than 90% of colorectal cancer occurs in people ages 50 and older, and that risk continually increases as you get older.

Other risk factors may also increase the possibility of colorectal cancer.

“If you have a family history of colorectal cancer or have an inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s, your risk is much higher,” said Agarwal, who is also an assistant professor in the Department of Surgery at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. “Lifestyle factors, such as overconsumption of processed meats, low physical activity, and tobacco or excessive alcohol use, also affects your risk.”

Eating a balanced diet, quitting smoking, and lowering alcohol consumption can improve your overall health, lifestyle and lowers your risk for colorectal cancer.

Signs and symptoms

Be proactive and talk to your doctor, if you experience any of the signs or symptoms below:

  • Change in bowel movements – constipation, diarrhea or narrowing of stool sizes.
  • Abdominal pain or discomfort – cramps, bloating, gas or feeling full.
  • Rectal bleeding – stools may appear bloody or dark red.
  • Weakness or fatigue – unexplained weight loss, vomiting or nausea.

Since these symptoms may overlap with other gastrointestinal problems, screening and early detection is important.

Screening options

There isn’t a best option when it comes to screening for polyps or colorectal cancer, but you have several choices.

“Screening options like stool tests, colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy or computed tomography (CT) colonography have their advantages and disadvantages,” Agarwal said. “You should consult with your doctor to see which is right for you.”

Treatment options

Treatments range from surgery to chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Your treatment options will vary based on what stage the cancer is in and where it is located.

“Surgery is often the choice for earlier diagnoses while chemotherapy and radiation therapy are usually the option for late stages,” Agarwal said. “The more complex the cancer, the more advanced the cancer treatment needs to be.”

It’s important to review all of your treatment options, including the possible side effects, with your doctors to help make the decision that best fits your needs.

The death rate from colorectal cancer has been dropping in both men and women for several decades. This is likely to due to early detection from screenings, in addition to improvements in colorectal cancer treatments.

To learn more about the UT Physicians colon and rectal team, visit this page. To schedule an appointment, call 713-486-4740.