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About Colorectal Cancer

Understanding Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is the second-most-prevalent cancer in the United States, striking approximately 140,000 men and women every year.

Fortunately, there's hope for those diagnosed with this serious disease. According to the American Cancer Society, the death rate from colorectal cancer has been declining for the past 20 years. This may be the result of fewer cases, earlier detection methods or improved treatment options.

Defining Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer begins in the gastrointestinal tract in either the colon or rectum when cells divide and grow uncontrollably. The colon is the first part of the large intestine, a muscular tube that is about five feet long. The colon absorbs water and nutrients from food and serves as a storage place for waste matter, which eventually moves into the rectum, the final section of the large intestine. From there, waste passes out of the body through the anus during a bowel movement.

Signs and Symptoms

In many cases, colorectal cancer can be detected early, which significantly increases the chances for successful treatment.  MidMichigan Medical Center has state-of-the art detection and treatment equipment generally only found at academic medical centers.  Talk to your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Change in bowel habits
  • Narrow, pencil-thin stools
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool
  • Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps
  • A sensation that the bowel doesn't completely empty
  • Unexplained weight loss

Risk Factors

Researchers have identified several factors that may put you at risk for colorectal cancer, including:

  • Family history - You may be at risk if:  
    • A first-degree relative, such as a parent, sibling or child, has had the disease
    • A first-degree relative has had a hereditary colon polyp disorder, such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)
    • A first-degree relative has had hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer
    • You are of Jewish or Eastern European descent
  • You have an inflammatory intestinal condition
  • You eat a high-fat diet
  • You smoke or drink excessively
  • You have a sedentary (inactive) lifestyle
  • You are obese

Early Detection - Your Best Defense

Take charge of your health by being tested early for colorectal cancer. The American Cancer Society notes that the five-year survival rate for colon cancer is 90 percent when it is diagnosed at an early, localized stage. These are the most common tests for detecting colorectal cancer:

  • Digital Rectal Exam (DRE)- In a DRE, your health care provider inserts a gloved finger into the rectum to feel for any abnormalities. 
  • Fecal Occult Blood Test  (FOBT)- The FOBT is used to find small amounts of occult (hidden) blood in the stool. You may be given a special home kit with instructions on how to take a stool sample, and then you will mail or bring the kit  to your provider's office for testing. Some screening FOBT tests use a special paper that changes color when dropped into the toilet.
  • Flexible Sigmoidoscopy- This 10- to 20-minute test involves inserting a slender, lighted tube into the rectum, so that the doctor or health care provider can look inside the rectum and part of the colon for cancer or polyps. Polyps are small, mushroom-shaped or flat growths on the side of the colon. Colon cancer most often starts with a polyp.
  • Colonoscopy- This test involves a longer lighted tube, which allows the doctor to see the entire colon. If a polyp is detected during this 30- to 60-minute procedure, it can be removed. If anything appears abnormal in the colon, a biopsy can be done, whereby a small piece of tissue is removed through the colonoscope and sent to the lab for testing. 
  • Double-contrast Barium Enema- During this 30- to 45-minute procedure, you drink a solution of barium sulfate to coat your large intestine, which is then injected with air and X-rayed to locate abnormal growths.
  • Given ® Diagnostic System (smart camera)-  This exam involves swallowing a tiny camera that takes pictures of your digestive system as it travels through your body. This painless method allows you to go about your normal activities while the pictures are being recorded on a wearable sensor. MidMichigan is the first provider in the area to offer this unique new system.

When Should You Receive Screenings?

The American Cancer Society recommends that men and women over 50 years of age adopt one of the following screening schedules: 

  • Yearly Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT)
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years
  • Yearly FOBT, plus sigmoidoscopy every five years
  • Double-contrast barium enema every five years
  • Colonoscopy every 10 years
  • People with risk factors should consider earlier or more frequent screenings, as directed by a doctor

The MidMichigan Difference

Accredited by the American College of Surgeons, MidMichigan Health's Pardee Cancer Center is unlike any other cancer center in the region. We offer:

  • An individualized treatment plan created in collaboration with your doctor
  • State Board-certified colorectal surgeon George G. Zainea, M.D.
  • Genetic testing and risk assessments for patients with a family history of colorectal cancer
  • Access to comprehensive treatments, such as surgery, radiation and chemotherapy
  • The Maria Mencia Cancer Caregiver Support Network, which offers support for caregivers by linking them with volunteer coaches through a partnership with Cancer Services in Midland

The Power of Prevention

In addition to regular screenings, here are some guidelines that may help you reduce your risk for colorectal cancer:

  • Eat a well-balanced diet each day, with five or more servings of fruits and vegetables and 25 to 30 grams of fiber
  • Limit fats, especially saturated fats
  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes three or four days a week 
  • Limit your daily alcohol intake
  • If you smoke, quit