Colon Cancer Awareness

Did you know that the month of March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month? Well, The Gloria Borges WunderGlo Foundation also wants you to know that every month of the year is ultra important to Living Your Best Gastrointestinal Health Life. On this page, WunderGlo provides you some very important and life-saving information to know regarding colon/colorectal cancer. 

  • What is Colorectal Cancer?

Colorectal cancer starts in the colon or the rectum, located at the digestive tract’s lower end. Cancer starts when the cells in the body start to grow out of control.

  • How Does Colorectal Cancer Start?

Most colorectal cancers start as a growth on the inner lining of the colon or rectum. These growths are called polyps. Early cases can begin as noncancerous polyps. These often have no symptoms but can be detected by screening. However, some types of polyps can change into cancer over time. The chance of a polyp turning into cancer depends on the type of polyp it is. This being said, there are different types of polyps: adenomatous polyps, hyperplastic polyps and inflammatory polyps, and sessile serrated polyps and traditional serrated adenomas. Adenomatous polyps can sometimes change into cancer and is often called a pre-cancerous condition. Hyperplastic polyps and inflammatory polyps are more common and in general are not pre-cancerous. Sessile serrated polyps and traditional serrated adenomas have a higher risk of colorectal cancer and are treated like adenomas. 

There are other factors that can make a polyp more likely to contain cancer or increase someone’s risk to developing colorectal cancer. These factors include if a polyp larger than 1 cm is found, if more than 3 polyps are found, and if dysplasia is seen in the polyp after it is removed which is another pre-cancerous condition that means there is an area in the polyp where the cells look abnormal. 

  • How Colorectal Cancer Spreads 

When cancer forms in a polyp, it can grow into the wall of the colon or rectum over time. This wall is made up of many layers. However, colorectal cancer starts in the innermost layer and can eventually grow outward through utilizing all of the other layers. When cancer cells are in the wall, they can begin to grow into blood vessels of lymph vessels and eventually can travel to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body. The stage of colorectal cancer depends on how deeply the cancer has grown into the wall and if it has spread outside of the colon or rectum. 

  • How Common is Colorectal Cancer? 

Did you know colorectal cancer is the third most common diagnosed cancer in both men and women? The American Cancer Society’s estimates for the number of colorectal cancer cases in the United States for 2022 are: 106,180 new cases of colon cancer and 44,850 new cases of rectal cancer. The lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about 1 in 23 for men and 1 in 25 for women. There are also other factors that can increase your risk in developing colorectal cancer. 

  • Colorectal Cancer Risk Factors 

There are factors that can increase your risk in developing colorectal cancer. Some of these risks you are able to change while other risks you cannot. Some colorectal cancer risk factors that you can change include: being overweight, not being physically active, certain types of diets such as those that are high in red meats and processed meats, smoking, and drinking. However, some colorectal cancer risk factors that you cannot change include being older as your risk for colorectal cancer goes up as you age, a personal history of colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer, a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, or a family history of colorectal cancer or adenomatous polyps. 

More often than not, many people believe that they do not have a family history because nobody in their family has actually been diagnosed with colorectal cancer. However, a family history is not just being diagnosed with colorectal cancer it can also mean the removal of pre-cancerous polyps. This being said, when learning about family history, also make sure to ask if anyone in the family has had any polyps removed and it can also be beneficial to know what kind of polyps were removed. 

  • What’s New in Colorectal Cancer Research?

When it comes to colorectal cancer, research is always going to be something that is ongoing. Scientists are actively looking for causes and ways to prevent colorectal cancer. 

While there are still studies in the making to see if certain types of diets, dietary supplements or even medicines can lower a person’s risk of colorectal cancer, there are current studies that advise to stick to a somewhat healthy diet and avoid diets that are high in processed meats to help decrease your risk in colorectal cancer. Did you know the recommended amount of fiber intake per day is 25-30 grams from food (not supplements)? However, many of us are only getting about 15. Some great sources of fiber include: black beans (5.4 grams in 3/4 cup), lima beans (5.3 grams in 3/4 cup), soy nuts (3.5 grams in 1/4 cup), oat bran (2.2 grams in 3/4 cup, cooked), and even oranges (1.8 grams in one medium fruit). 

  • Colorectal Cancer on the Rise 

Did you know young onset colorectal cancer is on the rise? Studies have shown that a person born in 1990 is 2 times as likely to have colon cancer and 4 times as likely to have rectal cancer compared to someone born in 1950. Although this cancer is decreasing in older populations, it is actually rising in younger populations. 

According to www.cancer.gov, nearly 18,000 people under the age of 50 will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer this year in the United States. It is extremely important to be your own advocate. You know your body more than anyone else so if something seems off, talk to your doctor and demand a test. Through doing so, it could save your own life. 

  • Symptoms

Colorectal cancer symptoms depend on the size and the location of the cancer. However, some of the most common symptoms include:

  1. A persistent change in one’s bowel movements, including diarrhea or constipation or a change in the consistency of your stool
  2. Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool
  3. Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain
  4. A feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely
  5. Weakness or fatigue
  6. Unexplained weight loss

It is also very important to add that unfortunately the most common symptom is NO symptom! Many late stage diagnosed patients have minimal to no obvious or recognizable symptoms at all.

Colorectal cancer is often referred to as “the silent killer.” – meaning that when noticeable symptoms are experienced, colon cancer is often diagnosed at a later stage. Even if you are not experiencing any type of abnormal G.I. symptoms – if you are age 45 or older, schedule your appointment to get screened today! If you feel like something is wrong, consult with your doctor. It is always better to be safe.

  • Getting Screened

Regular colorectal cancer screening is so important. Screening can find colorectal cancer early if it is small and hasn’t spread. Regular screening can even prevent colorectal cancer. A polyp can take almost as much as 10-15 years to develop into cancer. If doctors find polyps, they are unable to remove them before it even has the chance to turn into cancer. 

For those of you, who do not know, a colonoscopy is an exam used to detect changes or abnormalities in your colon and rectum. Before this can be done, your colon must be clean. In order for your colon to be clean, your doctor will determine what kind of prep is best for you. For some people it could mean drinking a gallon of liquid while for others it could be Miralax with an electrolyte drink – most likely Gatorade. 

Here are some tips on how to have a successful prep: 

  1. Stock up on clear liquids to follow through with a clear liquid diet. Some examples include broth, Gatorade, white grape juice, apple juice, Pedialyte and clear popsicles like banana, lemon, lime (with no fruit pieces) and jello. Nothing red or purple. 
  2. Eat a low fiber diet starting 2-days before your appointment
  3. The day before your colonoscopy make sure to stay indoors and close to a bathroom 
  4. If you live with other people, make sure that they are informed of the bathroom situation and that you will need some privacy 
  5. If you are having a hard time with the taste of your prep, try drinking it through a straw. (Some people like to chase it with a sip of apple juice.) 
  6. Make sure to finish the prep in its entirety. THIS IS SO IMPORTANT. Your doctor may not be able to perform a successful colonoscopy if you do not have a successful prep. 

  • Treatment

After you are diagnosed with cancer, and usually before you start chemo, you have a minor procedure with interventional radiology to place a port-a-cath. What is a port-a-catch? A device used to draw blood and give treatments, including intravenous fluids, drugs, or blood transfusions. The port is placed under the skin, usually in the chest. It is attached to a catheter (a thin, flexible tube) that is guided into a large vein above the right side of the heart called the superior vena cava. A port-a-cath may stay in place for many weeks or months. 

Through a port-a-catch, it makes it safer and easier to deliver medication, fluids, imaging contrast, and draw blood. To add, it protects the patient because some of the medications that cancer patients undergo can be harsh. 

When it comes to treatment options, a majority of colorectal cancer patients undergo a chemotherapy combination as their first type of therapy whether it is pre-surgery or post-surgery. Chemotherapy is a drug treatment that uses powerful chemicals to kill fast-growing cells in one’s body. Chemotherapy is most often used to treat cancer, since cancer cells grow and multiply much more quickly than most cells in the body. To add, it is known as “systemic treatment” which means it is given through an IV or port and treats the whole body of the cancer patient. This type of treatment is important to kill cancer cells that are too small to see. Chemotherapy is often used with a combination of other therapies such as radiation, however, it just depends on the stage of cancer an individual has. When it comes to side effects, everyone’s body can react differently. While one patient experiences hair loss and nausea another patient can just experience hair loss. 

For metastatic colorectal cancer patients, there may be times where the treatment plan needs to change. This can be because you become allergic to a treatment or your cancer may have become resistant to a type of treatment. At these important junctures, a decision based on your cancer’s current mutations/biomarkers can mean the difference between a treatment working or not working. Depending on the length of time you have been in treatment and how much treatment you have had, your cancer may have changed a lot, a little, or not at all since your initial biopsy. 

Unfortunately, biopsies can require sedation and carries risks associated with poking your tumor. This being said, liquid biopsies could be a great direction to go in. A liquid biopsy uses a blood sample to look for any sign of cancer circulating in your blood and if cancer is found, it is analyzed for mutations. Liquid biopsies make it simple to stay on top of mutational changes in one’s career. Jessica Buscho shared that she has had 6 liquid biopsies done and her cancer has changed every time. Knowing your biomarkers is extremely essential, be sure to talk with your doctors on which biopsy is best for you. 

  • After Treatment 

Fortunately, for many people, treatment can remove the cancer. This can be an exciting time as many patients feel a sense of relief to be able to be done with the treatments. However, many patients also have the fear that the cancer may return. This is why it is important to go over a survivorship plan with your doctor. This plan may include a schedule for follow up exams, a list of what to watch for when it comes to long-term side effects from your treatment, and even suggestions of things you can do to improve your health and lower the risk of the cancer coming back. 

  • Conclusion

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer related deaths. However, even with this being true research is widely underfunded. It is extremely important for funds to go toward research because it means there would be progress and more lines of treatment for this deadly disease. Some well-funded cancers have 5+ lines of treatment while colon cancer only has 2. For those of you who do not know, as you receive treatment your cancer becomes smarter which could mean your body becoming more tired. Treatments that may have worked in the past can stop working. When this happens, you may have to try a new treatment. How long each treatment lasts varies on the patient. However, the more available treatments there are, the higher the chances are for a cancer patient to live a longer life. What steps can you take to fund for more research? Every donation made to The Gloria Borges WunderGlo Foundation goes toward research for “The Cure”! If you cannot donate, you can write to your government officials demanding better. We must all work together and fight to end this disease.