March 18, 2015

Colorectal cancer: What you need to know

Colorectal cancer is one of the most curable types of gastrointestinal cancer, if found early.

Do you experience diarrhea or constipation that lasts for days, abdominal pain and rectal bleeding? Get yourself screened for bowel cancer. Also known as colorectal cancer, it is a malignant tumor that develops in the lining of the large intestine and can spread to nearby organs or to glands called lymph nodes.

“Bowel cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in the Philippines but it is highly preventable and treatable when diagnosed early. Filipinos should have sufficient information of the disease to know how it can be prevented or managed,” says Dr. Nicky Montoya, president of MediCard Philippines.

Here are essential facts about bowel cancer:

It can be colon cancer or rectal cancer.

Bowel cancer can start in the colon (colon cancer) or in the rectum, which is the last 12 centimetres of the large intestine (rectal cancer). The difference in location requires different methods of treatments.

It usually starts as polyps.

Most bowel cancer cells start as polyps, which are abnormal growths in the inner lining of the colon and rectum. Polyps are not malignant except for one type called adenoma, which becomes cancerous over time and multiplies to form a tumor. 

Its risk increases with age.

Polyps normally appear as people get older and adenoma develops into cancerous cells in about 10 years. This explains why majority of those who are diagnosed with bowel cancer are 50 years old and above. The disease can also develop in younger people although it occurs much less frequently.

It can be triggered by poor diet and an unhealthy lifestyle.

“Bad food” and lack of exercise can build up toxins in the colon. Studies link bowel cancer to a diet that’s low in fiber and high in fat and calories. Cigarette smokers, heavy alcohol drinkers, obese people, and those who have sedentary lifestyles are also prone to developing the disease. 

Its crucial symptoms are changes in bowel habit.

Signs of bowel cancer include prolonged diarrhea or constipation, abdominal pain, vomiting, rectal bleeding, bloating, and a relentless feeling of moving your bowels even when you’ve just finished doing so. You may also see blood in your stool. Physically, you may experience weakness, fatigue and rapid weight loss.

It is 90 percent curable when diagnosed early.

Bowel cancer may not cause any symptoms during its early stage, which underlines the importance of regular colorectal cancer screenings and tests including colonoscopy, CT colonography, flexible sigmoidoscopy, double-contrast barium enema (DCBE), Guaiac-based fecal occult blood test, fecal immunochemical test (FIT), and stool DNA test. 

Treatments include surgery (removal of polyps before they become cancerous), chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and targeted drug therapy. While no alternative treatment has been proven to cure bowel cancer, certain techniques can help relieve distress from the disease, including yoga, music therapy and relaxation exercises.

The MediCard Lifestyle Center offers endoscopy and other quality medical services. 

Visit its website at for more information.

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