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Colon and rectal cancer: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help


About colon and rectal cancer

Colon and rectal cancer refers to the malignancy of the large intestine which constitutes of the ascending colon, the transverse colon, the descending colon and the rectum. The colon is primarily responsible for absorbing excess water from the nearly digested food which has been passed along from the small intestine and converting them into faeces which get stored in the rectum before being passed into anal canal during bowel movement.

The cancer (abnormal growth of cells) in the large intestine usually develops in the glandular tissue. The cancer of colon and rectum generally exhibit similar characteristics and behaviour with only a minor difference in their steps of management.

Colon and rectal cancer: Incidence, age and sex

Colon and rectal cancer are commonly encountered malignant conditions in the developed world. . They are slightly more frequent in men as compared with women. Individuals of more than 50 years of age are more susceptible, though it may occur in any age group. The cancer of the colon is more prevalent than rectal cancer.

Signs and symptoms of colon and rectal cancer: Diagnosis

The clinical features are usually absent or minimal during the early stage of cancer. However as the cancer progresses, the affected individual may present with complains of flatulence and abdominal pain which may be vague or cramping in quality. Cancer of the rectum may also manifest with left lower abdominal pain during bowel movement. Stool disorders like blood and mucous stained faeces or feeling of incomplete evacuation may also be complained of. Any recent change in bowel habit or alternating occurrence of constipation and diarrhoea is quite characteristic of large bowel cancer. Other features include loss of appetite, weight loss and anaemia.

Such features need to be evaluated comprehensively by a gastroenterologist who may conduct investigations like proctoscopy and colonoscopy which help in direct visualization of inside of large bowel. Other tests like faecal occult blood test, biopsy and direct rectal examination may aid in establishing the diagnosis. The cancer in later stages may spread to other organs like the liver and the lungs which may be detected by CT scans of the chest and the abdomen.

Causes and prevention of colon and rectal cancer

Cancer of colon and rectum may be caused in individuals who have genetic disorders like ‘familial adenomatous polyposis’ and ‘hereditary non-polyposis cancer of colon’. Such conditions are hereditary and characterised by abnormal growth in the lining of wall of the large bowel which may later develop into cancerous growths. Inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis and crohn’s disease damage the large bowel and increase the likelihood of cancer. Certain risk factors like excess alcohol consumption, smoking, obesity and low fibre content in diet may also predispose people to this cancer.

Colon and rectal cancer: Complications

Cancer of colon and rectum may spread to other organs like the liver and the lungs through the bloodstream and the lymphatic route.

Colon and rectal cancer: Treatment

The management of colon and rectal cancer depends on the site, severity and spread of the cancer. The primary treatment modality is surgical resection of the cancerous part of bowel followed by end to end suturing. The treatment of choice in the cancer of the colon is surgical resection followed by chemotherapy with 5-fluorouracil whereas cancer of the rectum is mostly managed by surgical resection followed by radiotherapy. In instances of spread of cancer to other organs, all the three modalities may be considered which may vary from individual to individual. The prognosis of colon and rectal cancer is good if the cancer is diagnosed in the early stages.