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Colorectal cancer starts as a small precancerous polyp on the colon wall, or an abnormal growth of cells in the rectum. Left unchecked, it can grow through to invade surrounding lymph nodes, tissues and organs. Symptoms of colorectal cancer, which is more common after age 50, include a change in bowel habits, abdominal pain, weakness, and blood in the stool.
Because there are no obvious symptoms until later stages of the disease, colorectal cancer is usually found through a screening test.
Effective treatment of colorectal cancer requires a team approach, with a colorectal surgeon, an oncologist and cancer center coordinating care.
“The treatment goal is to remove the malignant growth with surgery and then administer chemotherapy, if necessary, to kill any remaining cancer cells,” explains Gavin Melmed, M.D., a medical oncologist on the medical staff at Baylor Medical Center at Garland.
Patients with stage 1 or 2 colorectal cancers often are cured through surgery alone. With stage 3 and 4, newer, more targeted chemotherapy agents are improving outcomes.
In any case, after the initial treatment, periodic follow-up screenings, blood tests and CT scans are needed to check for possible recurrence.
“As with all cancers, you really want to catch colorectal cancer early,” emphasizes Dr. Melmed. So take steps to prevent it. Eat a high-fiber diet, exercise, maintain a healthy weight and don’t smoke. Be sure to get a screening colonoscopy at age 50, or earlier if you have a family history.
Fecal occult blood test (FOBT) or FIT test. These check for hidden blood in the stool.
Sigmoidoscopy. The doctor uses a scope to examine the last part of the colon and the rectum.
Virtual colonoscopy. Through CT scanning, 3-D images of the colon are reconstructed into a “virtual” colonoscopy. But, if a suspicious growth is seen, the patient still must undergo the “gold standard” screening:
Colonoscopy. This is both a screening test and a treatment, because precancerous growths localized within the colon can simply be removed during the procedure.
Talk to your doctor to make sure you get the screenings you need. To find a physician on the medical staff at Baylor Garland, call 1-800-4BAYLO R or search our online database.
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