Colorectal cancer: 4 facts you should know

Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer in SA and the second most common cause of death among those diagnosed with cancer.

According to a recent study, one in six people over the age of 50 is too embarrassed to share their symptoms with a doctor, which affects their chances of surviving diseases such as colorectal cancer. What’s more, a third of us fear we are wasting our GP’s time by going to see them with our concerns.

“One thing is certain,” says Martin Ledwick, a nurse specialising in cancer care, “your doctor would much prefer to examine any symptoms that you’re worried about and find they’re nothing, than have you ignore the signs until it’s too late.”

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1 Early detection

While five-year colorectal cancer survival rates have more than doubled in the last 40 years, one in five patients is still diagnosed late, when their cancer is likely to be harder to treat.

“If it is caught before the cancer invades surrounding tissue, a patient’s chance of survival at five years is 90%,” says Dr Lynne Howells, a cancer researcher.

“But if it’s diagnosed at a very late stage, a patient’s survival chance is only 10%, which is why reporting any worrying symptoms to your doctor and attending screenings are so crucial.”

2 Diagnosis and treatment

Your doctor may feel the tummy area, then do an examination by popping their finger in the back passage. After that, you might have to go for a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy, which look at either the rectum/lower part of the large bowel, or the whole bowel. Results can take up to 48 hours. Treatment will almost always require bowel surgery.

Chemo- or radiotherapy may not be required, especially in the early stages, and if a colostomy bag is required, it might be temporary and can be removed once the bowel has healed.

3 Symptoms

  • Bleeding from the back passage.
  • Blood in stools.
  • Any change in bowel habits (this could include anything from going more frequently, being constipated, to stools becoming looser).
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • A lump or in the abdomen or back passage.
  • Abdominal pain or pain in the back passage.

4 Prevention

Here’s what may help:

  • More fibre could reduce risk by up to 40%.
  • Less red meat: Only 100 to 120 grams a day of red meat is thought to increase risk by 20 to 30%, and only 25 to 50 grams daily of processed meat also increases risk.
  • Love curry: Curcumin, a compound found in turmeric, is being tested for slowing down or preventing colorectal cancer-cell growth.
  • Aspirin: Long-term daily use could lower your risk. But, talk to your GP first, as it can lead to stomach bleeding in some people.

DISCLAIMER: Before starting any diet, you should speak to your doctor. You must not rely on the information on this website/newsletter as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or other professional healthcare provider.

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