Although the numbers have been declining in the last few years, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in all genders. Colorectal cancer which refers to cancer of the colon and rectum, affects millions of men and women worldwide and knowing what you can do to prevent it is the first step toward a cure. 

Learning more about colorectal cancer informs you of the preventative measures you can take to lower your risks of getting the disease. Here are some facts to know about colorectal cancer.

What is colorectal cancer?

Cancer begins when some cells grow out of control. In most cases, colorectal cancer starts as growths known as polyps in the inner surface of the colon or rectum. While some polyps develop into cancer over time, not all polyps develop into cancer. Typically the probability of a polyp turning into cancer depends on which type of polyp it is.

Here are the different types of polyps:

  • Adenomas can sometimes change into cancer, and therefore they are referred to as a pre-cancerous condition. There are three types of adenomas: villous, tubular, and tubulovillous.
  • Hyperplastic polyps and inflammatory polyps are common but not pre-cancerous. If you have large hyperplastic polyps, notably more than 1cm, you may need colorectal cancer screening with colonoscopy often.
  • Traditional serrated adenomas and sessile serrated polyps are treated as adenomas because they pose a higher risk of colorectal cancer.

Other aspects likely to increase the probability of polyps developing into colorectal cancer include:

A polyp larger than 1cm.

More than three polyps.

Dysplasia, a pre-cancerous condition, is detected in the polyps after removal. This means there is a part in the lining of the colon or rectum with abnormal cells. But they have not turned into cancer yet.

The spread of colorectal cancer

When cancer starts in a polyp, it grows into the walls of the colon and rectum over time. The colon and rectum have many layers, and the cancer begins in the innermost layer known as the mucosa. Then it grows outwards through all or some of the layers.

When the cancerous cells are in the colon and rectum wall, they can grow into lymph vessels or blood vessels and then spread to surrounding lymph nodes and other parts of the body.

Typically the advancement of colorectal cancer depends on how deeply it has grown into the wall and how widely it has spread outside the colon and rectum.

Colorectal cancer is preventable with regular screenings

Hong Kong colorectal cancer screening saves lives because it detects pre-cancerous polyps hence removal before they turn into cancer. Colorectal cancer screening also helps find the cancer early when it is treatable.

According to studies, regular colorectal cancer screening can prevent a third of colorectal cancer deaths, and the five-year survival rate is 90% if the cancer is detected early. Finding colorectal cancer early before it spreads to other body parts also enables more treatment options.

Colorectal cancer screenings can be divided into two:

  • Stool-based tests examine the stool for signs of cancer. These are less invasive and easier to do, but you should undergo them more often.
  • Visual exams look at the structure of the colon and rectum for any abnormalities. A scope, a narrow tube with a tiny camera at the end, is inserted into the rectum allowing the doctor to examine your colon and rectum.

These tests are important, especially if you have symptoms of colorectal cancer or other digestive diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease. A colonoscopy should follow an abnormal test result to ascertain the findings.

Age is the leading risk factor for colorectal cancer

According to research, 90% of colorectal cancer appear in persons aged 50years and older. Additionally, the risk of developing the cancer increases with age. However, that is not to say young people cannot get colorectal cancer. Other risk factors include:

  • A history of colorectal polyps or cancer, especially if they were large or many. 
  • A family history of colorectal cancer. The risk is higher if you have a first-degree relative diagnosed with colorectal cancer. The risk is even higher if they were diagnosed with the cancer below age 50 or if more than one relative is involved.
  • A history of inflammatory bowel conditions, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
  • An inherited syndrome or gene mutations that cause family cancer symptoms.

The above-mentioned risk factors are not controllable, but regular Hong Kong colorectal cancer screening is advisable if you are at a higher risk. 

Your lifestyle choices may impact your risks of colorectal cancer

There are many lifestyle factors linked to colorectal cancer. They include:

  • Being overweight.
  • Not being physically active.
  • Certain types of diets.
  • Alcohol use.
  • Smoking.

Obesity or being overweight increases your colorectal cancer risk by 30% and reduces the chances of successful treatment. People who smoke are 14% more likely to die from colorectal cancer than people who do not smoke. Since these lifestyle risk factors for colorectal cancer are controllable, it is advisable to discuss ways to reduce or eliminate them with your doctor.

Colorectal cancer rarely has early signs.

Colorectal cancer is hard to detect in the early stages because it has no early signs, so regular screening is essential. However, it has some warning signs, including frequent bloating, gas pains, cramps, fullness, constipation, diarrhea, a feeling that the bowel doesn’t empty all the way, blood in the stool, and a change in bowel habits.

Since these symptoms could also signal a different disease, it is best to visit your doctor if you experience them.

Regular colorectal cancer screening begins at age 50

Universal colorectal cancer screening is recommended from 50years because polyps tend to be detected often in people of that age. However, if you are under 50 and have a family or personal history of colorectal cancer, you should discuss your preventive options with a doctor. Colorectal cancer is one of the diseases that the Hong Kong cancer fund helps with.

Last words

More research into colorectal cancer is ongoing to help doctors tackle it and improve diagnosis and treatment options.