What is Colorectal Cancer?

A Discussion About Colorectal Cancer

What is more uncomfortable than a discussion about cancer?  A discussion about colorectal cancer! For those who aren’t familiar with the term, colorectal cancer is a term to covers colon cancer and rectal cancer since they share many features. 

The biggest differentiating factor is where cancer starts, either in the colon (colon cancer) or the rectum (rectal cancer).  

What is The Colon?

The large intestine consists of the colon and rectum. The colon is approximately 5 feet long and consists of four sections. The sections are named based on the direction of food flow. (Obviously, 5 feet of intestine won’t fit in the body without some serious Tetris action.) It begins with the ascending colon – food enters from the small intestine and travels upward along the right side of the body.

The traverse colon takes the food from the right side of the body across the abdomen to the left side. From there, it takes the descending colon (down the left side of the body) to the “S”-shaped sigmoid colon that connects to the rectum. The process of extracting useful nutrients from the food and eliminating unnecessary waste concludes here.

What are Polyps?

Polyps can form in the inner lining of any of those places. Polyps are abnormal cell growths, but not all polyps become cancerous.  Some polyps have a greater chance of turning into cancer than others.  Here are the different types of polyps:

  • Adenomatous polyps (adenomas):  There are three types of adenomas – tubular, tubulovillous, and villous. These polyps sometimes change into cancer so are considered a precancerous condition. 
  • Hyperplastic polyps and inflammatory polyps:This type of polyp rarely turns into cancer so is not considered to be precancerous.  If the polyps found are larger than 1cm (approximately ⅓ of an inch), follow-up screening with a colonoscopy will need to happen more frequently.
  • Sessile serrated polyps (SSP) and traditional serrated adenomas (TSA): Because these have been shown to have a higher rate of turning cancerous, they are also considered a precancerous condition.  

The size of the polyp (anything greater than 1cm) and the number of polyps (greater than 3) also factor into the increased probability that it could turn cancerous. 

Colorectal Cancer 

Colorectal cancer spreads when the cancer cells grow into the walls of the intestine and breach a blood or lymph vessel and be carried to a lymph node or take up residence in other places in the body.  

  • Adenocarcinomas – The vast majority of colorectal cancers are adenocarcinomas. There are different types of adenocarcinomas, with differing outlooks for the future.  Signet ring and mucinous have a bleaker prognosis than other types of adenocarcinomas.
  • Carcinoid tumors – These are rare and are typically caused by hormone-making cells in the intestine.
  • Sarcomas – Another rare tumor. These tumors start in the muscle, blood vessels, or connective tissue in the walls of the colon and rectum.
  • Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs)  – These tumors start from the interstitial cells of Cajal, which are special cells located in the wall of the colon. Sometimes these tumors turn out to not be cancerous. These tumors can occur anywhere along the digestive tract, but are rarely found in the colon.

Signs and Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer

Many of these symptoms could be caused by something other than colorectal cancer.  However, since early detection is the key to beating any cancer, if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, it is better to have it checked into:

  • Change in bowel movements that lasts longer than a few days.  These changes include constipation, diarrhea, or narrow stools.
  • Black or dark brown stools indicate possible blood in the stool.
  • Feeling like you still need to have a bowel movement even though you just went.
  • Bright red blood from the rectum.
  • Abdominal cramping or pain.
  • Unexplained weakness and fatigue.
  • Unintended weight loss

If you are experiencing any troubling symptoms, please consult a medical professional. 

IPE Screening does have a few blood tests that are useful for early detection and monitoring of cancers. 

A CBC Blood panel can flag anything outside the normal ranges.  There is a test for checking liver function.  The most useful would be the CA125 test.  This test can detect certain cancers in their early stages.  

No doctor? No problem. No insurance? Also no problem. No appointment necessary.