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Colorectal cancer is a common cancer that can be detected and treated early. Early treatment increases the chances of recovery.
You have probably heard the term “large intestine” before. This is the final part of the digestive tract. It consists of a long tube divided into segments, the last ones being the colon, rectum and the anal canal. The primary function of the large intestine is to temporarily store food waste following the digestive process, and to evacuate it from the body in the form of stools.
Colorectal cancer affects the final part of the large intestine, more specifically the colon or the rectum.
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in Canada. Moreover, it is the second most frequently diagnosed cancer. It is estimated that 1 in 13 men, and 1 in 16 women will develop colorectal cancer in the course of their lifetime.
This type of cancer occurs more frequently in people over the age of 50, and the risk of developing it increases with age.
Some people are at greater risk of developing colorectal cancer. Here are some examples of known risk factors:
It is interesting to note that lifestyle changes can help reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.
Another important fact: a person can get colorectal cancer even without any risk factors!
Colorectal cancer is often “silent” in its early stages and can progress and manifest itself through various signs and symptoms. Here are some examples:
Colorectal cancer can be diagnosed using different methods, the most commonly known of which is a colonoscopy. This procedure consists of inserting a tube with a camera through the rectum to examine the inside of the colon and detect the presence of abnormalities, such as polyps or abnormal lesions.
During a colonoscopy, a biopsy can be taken of tissue from the intestinal or rectal wall for analysis.
There are various screening tests for colorectal cancer. The purpose of screening is to detect colorectal cancer early so that it can be treatment quickly. In Quebec, after the age of 50, it is recommended to undergo a test that involves a stool analysis every two years.
This simple test is called the fecal occult blood test (FOBT or "FIT test"). It detects the presence of blood in the stool in amounts that are invisible to the naked eye. It must be ordered by a licensed healthcare professional, such as a doctor. The result of this test does not confirm a diagnosis, but rather whether or not another test, such as a colonoscopy, should be performed.
For people at particular risk, screening should be considered before age 50. The doctor will determine the appropriate screening method and frequency based on the individual's specific situation.
Ask your doctor about screening and whether you should be tested based on your personal risk assessment.
Colorectal cancer usually progresses slowly and in a fairly predictably way. A person can have it for years without knowing it, especially if they have no symptoms.
The chances of recovery are increased when it is diagnosed in the early stages, which is why early detection is so important. Treatment is more effective if the disease has not spread outside the colon.
Treatment for colorectal cancer can involve various measures, including:
The treatment plan depends on several factors, including the person’s age, medical history and health, the type, location, stage and extent of the disease, and the presence of metastases, etc. It involves the expertise of a care team that specializes in the management of this type of cancer.
If you have any health-related questions, speak to your pharmacist, who is always there to help you!
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