Colorectal Cancer

According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States, and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths.

Overall, the lifetime risk for people developing colorectal cancer is about five percent. And while early screenings and scientific advancements have increased the chances of survival, it is estimated that colorectal cancer will result in more than 50,000 deaths in 2010.

What is Colorectal Cancer?
Colorectal cancer is cancer that begins in the colon or the rectum.  Sometimes acknowledged separately as colon cancer or rectal cancer, these diseases share many characteristics and can thus be discussed jointly as colorectal cancer.  While there are several types of colorectal cancer, 95% are classified as adenocarcinomas, which are those cancers that start in cells that form glands that make mucus to lubricate the inside of the colon and rectum.

Colorectal cancer usually develops over a number of years after beginning as a non-cancerous polyp on the inner lining of the colon or rectum.  Furthermore, the disease usually occurs without symptoms, making regular screenings of the colon important for detection of cancer.  Symptoms that may occur include a change in bowel movements and bleeding.  Treatment for colorectal cancer includes surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation.

Cause & Risk factors
As with many other cancers, the exact cause of colorectal cancer is unknown, though certain risk factors have been associated with the disease.

Medical History: A person’s record of previous health conditions has much influence on his or her susceptibility to colorectal cancer.

History of colorectal cancer: An individual who has a history of colorectal cancer is more likely to develop the disease again, especially if the first development was at a young age. And while younger adults can develop the disease, the chances increase markedly in older adults. More than 90% of those diagnosed with colorectal cancer are older than 50.

Other diseases: Another risk factor for colorectal disorder includes Inflammatory Bowel Disease, or IBD.  Long-term IBD can lead to dysplasia, or abnormalities in the cells in the lining of the colon or rectum that could potentially become cancerous.  If a person has IBD, which can be present as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s Disease, he or she has a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer.

A personal or familial history of cancers of the pancreas, breast, ovaries, or uterus may is also a risk factor for developing colorectal cancer.  People who have Type II diabetes have also been found to have a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer. Also, as many as 20% of those who develop colorectal cancer have other family members who have been affected by this disease, while up to 10% have inherited gene changes that cause the disease.

Genetic disposition: A person’s genetic makeup has a great influence on their susceptibility to many diseases, including colorectal cancer.  If a person has an immediate family member (parent, sibling, or child) who has had adenomatous polyps  or colorectal cancer, he or she is more likely to develop colorectal cancer, especially if the condition began at a young age.

Hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer is a genetic condition that occurs at a young age and leads to the development of colon cancer and up to 100 colon polyps at a young age.  This particular disease travels from generation to generation and is associated with other cancers including small bowel, stomach and bladder.  Other conditions such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), Gardner’s syndrome, Turcot’s syndrome, Peutz-Jahger’s syndrome and Cowden’s disease are all genetic disorders that lead to colon polyps and increase the risk of developing colon cancer.

According to the statistics, African Americans have the highest colorectal cancer incidence and mortality rates of all racial groups in the United States, although there are no hard facts to suggest why.

Chemical exposure: Heavy exposure to certain chemicals, including chlorine — which in small amounts is commonly used to purify drinking water — may increase the risk of colorectal cancer. Exposure to asbestos is thought to be potentially harmful because it has been implicated in causing formation of polyps in the colon.

Lifestyle: Some research shows that diets that are high in red meat contribute to a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer.  Researchers have also found an increased risk for people with diets high in fried, grilled and broiled meats.  Cooking meats at such high temperatures lead to the release of harmful, carcinogenic chemicals; however, there is yet to be a direct connection made between those chemicals and colorectal cancer.

Also, some of the carcinogenic components of cigarettes are swallowed and passed through the digestive system.  Thus, long-term smokers are at a higher risk for the development of colorectal cancer due to the potential of those cancer-causing agents infecting parts of the digestive system.

Heavy alcohol use has been associated with an increased risk of alcohol.  This may be attributed to the fact that heavy drinkers often have low levels of folic acid in the body.

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