What are the signs of colorectal cancer?
Colorectal cancer originates in the colon and rectum, the two organs that comprise the large intestine. CRC is one of the most prevalent and deadly cancers in the United States, both because it may be aggressive, and because it can grow without causing symptoms for months or even years. By the time symptoms begin to appear, the CRC may have spread to the lymph nodes or other organs of the body.
If symptoms from CRC do appear, they most commonly include:
CRC may cause one or many of these symptoms and, importantly, these symptoms can also signify health issues other than cancer.
Although CRC generally arises in individuals over 50 years of age, in the past decade a worrisome uptick in CRC diagnosis in persons in the 30-50 year old category has occurred. The cause is unknown, but may reflect changes in the environment, such as food preservatives, viruses, or chemicals in the water supply.
If you notice any major changes in your general health or digestive habits, or recognize even the slightest signs and symptoms of colon cancer, you should schedule an immediate visit to your doctor.
The good news
In the majority of cases, modern medicine can prevent CRC, or detect CRC at an early and treatable stage. This is because CRC generally arises from pre-cancerous growths called polyps, which physicians can identify and remove before they become cancer. There are several ways to detect polyps and CRCs, including colonoscopy, stool testing for hidden blood or abnormal genetic material shed by polyps, or body imaging such as CT scanning. Your NYGA physician will determine the screening choice that is right for you. The American Cancer Society recommends having a colonoscopy every 10 years, beginning at age 50. They also recommend having them every five years beginning at age 40 if you have certain risk factors.
There is other good news: in the past decade, treatment for colorectal cancer has improved. Recent studies have demonstrated the value of “biological” therapy for CRC treatment, which uses “smart” molecules rather than blunt chemotherapy to eradicate CRC cells. Combined with surgery and traditional chemotherapy, these tailored therapies are increasing the survival of individuals with colorectal cancer.
How is colon cancer diagnosed?
Most commonly, physicians diagnose CRC by colonoscopy. During this test, the doctor explores your colon using a flexible tube-shaped instrument with a camera on the end. This scope visualizes polyps and cancers, and allows the gastroenterologist to sample the tissue for analysis under the microscope (“biopsy”) with small forceps. Where appropriate, the physician will remove the growth, or order further tests, such as MRI scans, PET scans, and CT scans in order to determine what stage the cancer is.
What are the stages of colon cancer?
Staging colon cancer is a way of letting you know which phase your cancer has reached. The stages are:
- Stage 1 – Cancer cells are found outside the lining of the colon but no further
- Stage 2 – Cancer has passed through the colon wall but has not been found in the lymph nodes or surrounding tissues
- Stage 3 – Cancer cells have been found in the lymph nodes but has not metastasized further
- Stage 4 – Cancer cells are present in organs throughout the body
Diagnostic tests can often detect cancer in its earliest stages. In some cases, colon cancer surgery is performed to determine the exact extent of the progression of the cancer so your doctor can formulate an effective and successful treatment plan.
Colon Cancer Screenings at NYGA Are State-of-the-Art
If you need a colon cancer screening, you’ll be glad to know that our doctors perform these procedures at our two state-of-the-art endoscopy centers. These are:
The Endoscopy Center of New York. This advanced, 12,000 square foot facility is located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The center has five large, fully-equipped procedure rooms, a well-appointed, comfortable waiting room, a private registration area, and spacious pre-assessment and recovery areas. ECNY has been the site of more than 50,000 procedures.
Carnegie Hill Endoscopy, a clinical affiliate of Beth Israel Medical Center, is an advanced, 15,000 square foot facility center located on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan.