Colorectal cancer – or colon cancer – is the abnormal proliferation of cells in the large intestine (the colon and rectum) and the appearance of benign or malignant tumours in this area. Men are slightly more at risk for it than women. In Canada, 1 out of 14 men and 1 out of 16 women risk developing colorectal cancer.
Risk factors of colorectal cancer
The causes of colorectal cancer have not yet been clearly identified. But the following risk factors have been associated with the disease:
- Polyps (small growths) on the intestinal wall;
- Age (this form of cancer affects mainly people 50 years old and over);
- History of inflammatory bowel disease (i.e. ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease);
- Family history of colon or rectal cancer;
- Poor diet;
- Alcohol consumption;
- Physical inactivity;
Symptoms of colorectal cancer
Nearly all cases of colorectal cancer (99 percent) begin as polyps on the intestinal wall. Although the majority of polyps are benign, they should be removed (through surgery or endoscopy, for instance) so that they do not eventually become cancerous.
In the early stages of development, which can last up to 10 years, colon cancer often does not exhibit any symptoms, since the abdomen has plenty of room for a tumour to grow.Eventually, it may cause bleeding or a blockage of the bowel.
The following symptoms should be mentioned to a doctor, as they could be caused by colorectal cancer:
- Blood in the stool
- Painful bowel movements
- Constipation or a feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
- Abdominal discomfort
- Unexplained weight loss
- Feeling of exhaustion
Preventing colorectal cancer
Colorectal cancer can be cured when it is discovered in its early stage. Prevention and regular checkups are your best ally in the fight against this disease, especially if you are at risk.
Here are various measures to help you reduce your risk of developing colon cancer:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Not smoking
- Eating a diet rich in fruit, vegetables and fibre
Do you have questions about colorectal cancer and its treatment? Talk to your pharmacist. He’s there to help!