Health Care and Colorectal Cancer

- September 23, 2013
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A story in says that although significant progress has been made in treating cancer, more than 1.6 million Americans are projected to receive a cancer diagnosis in 2013, according to the third American Association for Cancer Research's Cancer Progress Report 2013. The number of cancer survivors increased from three million in 1971 (one in 69) to 13.7 million in 2012 (one in 23). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved 11 new drugs, three new uses for previously approved drugs, and three new imaging technologies, from Sept. 1, 2012, to July 31, 2013.

Despite this progress, in 2013, more than 1.6 million Americans are projected to receive a cancer diagnosis, and more than 580,350 are predicted to die of the disease. Cancer will account for nearly one in four deaths. More than half of cancers are related to preventable causes, including tobacco use, obesity and overweight, lack of physical activity, and poor nutrition. Cancer is the most costly disease to the United States, according to

One of the most severe forms of cancer forms in the colon, often appearing there with no advance signs for months or years until the disease is discovered by medical tests. Getting a colonoscopy is not something most people look forward to, according to the Los Angeles Times -- but a new analysis suggests that it's worth it to follow screening recommendations and have the test done every 10 years (or every five for those at high risk.)

According to the Colon Cancer Alliance, no one knows the exact causes of colon cancer. Doctors often cannot explain why one person develops this disease and another does not. However, it is clear that colon cancer is not contagious. No one can catch this disease from another person. Research has shown that people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop colon cancer. A risk factor is something that may increase the chance of developing a disease. Studies have found the following risk factors for colon cancer:

--Age over 50: Colon cancer is more likely to occur as people get older. More than 90 percent of people with this disease are diagnosed after age 50. The average age at diagnosis is 72.

--Colon polyps: Polyps are growths on the inner wall of the colon or rectum. They are common in people over age 50. Most polyps are benign (not cancer), but some polyps (adenomas) can become cancer. Finding and removing polyps may reduce the risk of colon cancer.

--Family history of colon cancer: Close relatives (parents, brothers, sisters, or children) of a person with a history of colon cancer are somewhat more likely to develop this disease themselves, especially if the relative had the cancer at a young age. If many close relatives have a history of colon cancer, the risk is even greater.

--Genetic alterations: Changes in certain genes increase the risk of colon cancer.

--Personal history of cancer: A person who has already had colon cancer may develop colon cancer a second time. Also, women with a history of cancer of the ovary, uterus (endometrium), or breast are at a somewhat higher risk of developing colon cancer.

--Ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease: A person who has had a condition that causes inflammation of the colon (such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease) for many years is at increased risk of developing colon cancer.

--Diet and Lifestyle: Studies suggest that diets high in red meat and fat (especially animal fat) and low in calcium, folate, and fiber may increase the risk of colon cancer. Also, some studies suggest that people who eat a diet very low in fruits and vegetables may have a higher risk of colon cancer. However, results from diet studies do not always agree, and more research is needed to better understand how diet affects the risk of colon cancer.

--Inactivity and obesity have also been linked to higher risk of colon cancer. Studies have shown that daily physical activity can decrease colon cancer risk by as much as 50 percent.

--Cigarette smoking: A person who smokes cigarettes may be at increased risk of developing polyps and colon cancer.

Because people who have colon cancer may develop colon cancer a second time, it is important to have checkups. If you have colon cancer, you also may be concerned that your family members may develop the disease. People who think they may be at risk should talk to their doctor. Much more material on this subject can be found at this website: .

In order to understand colorectal cancer, it helps to know something about the structure of the digestive system and how it works. After food is chewed and swallowed, it travels to the stomach. There it is partly broken down and sent to the small intestine. The small intestine is only called small because it isn’t very wide compared to the colon. In fact, the small intestine is the longest part of the digestive system -- about 20 feet. The small intestine also breaks down the food and absorbs most of the nutrients.

What remains goes into the colon (large intestine), a muscular tube about 5 feet long. The colon absorbs water and nutrients from the food and also serves as a storage place for waste matter (stool). Stool moves from the colon into the rectum, which is the last 6 inches of the digestive system. From there, stool passes out of the body through the opening called the anus.

The colon begins at the end of the small intestine – on the right side of the body at a place called the cecum. It goes up and bends to go across the top of the belly and turns down again on the left side. The rectum is in the lower part of the pelvis. More details can be found at this site: .

According to the National Cancer Institute, the estimated new cases and deaths from colon and rectal cancer in the United States in 2013 are as follows:

• New cases: 102,480 (colon); 40,340 (rectal)
• Deaths: 50,830 (colon and rectal combined)

To learn more about colon and rectal cancer symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and questions to ask, see your doctor. A significant amount of info on colorectal cancer can also be found at this site: . You’ll especially want to ask your physician about the following topics and focus discussion about details if you are diagnosed or have the potential to develop colorectal cancer:

--Prevention, Genetics, Causes: Information related to prevention, genetics, and risk factors.

--Screening and Testing: Information about methods of cancer detection including new imaging technologies, tumor markers, and biopsy procedures.

--Treatment: Information about treatment, including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and vaccine therapy.

Cancer is deadly, and not seeking regular checkups from your doctor can be fatal if you are diagnosed too late with the disease. Always use preventive care with your health care provider to keep your medical history up to date. Schedule a colonoscopy if you meet the typical criteria, and get regular blood tests as part of your annual medical screenings. Colon cancer and rectal cancer are serious, and getting regular checkups and exams help determine an early diagnosis for treatment. In cases like this, no news is not necessarily good news.

Until next time.
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