Colorectal cancer is still one of the most common and deadliest cancers today. But what are its symptoms and how is it detected?
Colorectal cancer is a disease of the cells that line the inside of the colon and rectum that develops from an initially normal cell, which after mutation start to multiply in an uncontrollable manner.
Definition: What is colorectal cancer?
Colorectal cancer is one of the most common types of cancer today. But it is also one of the deadliest, despite the decreasing mortality rate. In general, colorectal cancer occurs in people over 50 (95% of cases). That is why we must be vigilant at this age.
Although this term is the most common, colorectal cancer actually includes two related cancers, one from the colon and one from the rectum. Of the thousands of new cases reported each year, 60% of these cancers are found in the colon and 40% in the rectum. These cancers are characterized by the appearance of a malignant tumor in the colon mucosa, which does not always lead to the appearance of significant symptoms.
Warning signs in the abdominal and intestinal area
After the appearance of a tumor, the cancer may manifest itself as sudden or deepening constipation, prolonged diarrhea, bloating, frequent or persistent abdominal pain, sudden and continuous bowel movements, vomiting or blood in the stool. There may also be other, less specific signs, such as anemia or unexplained weight loss.
As the tumor develops, more serious symptoms such as intestinal obstruction or peritonitis may occur. It is therefore important to detect the cancer as early as possible. There are several ways to do this, but they are more or less effective depending on the stage of the cancer and its location.
A clinical examination usually consists of a rectal examination to look for possible changes. However, this only detects anomalies around the anus and does not determine whether they are cancerous or not.
Detection of traces of blood in the stool
At present, a screening program based on a very specific test has been developed to find microscopic traces of blood in the stool. The current reference test is known as Hemoccult and is performed over a period of several days according to the instructions for use. It consists of depositing the stool collected over several days on test card which are sent to an approved test laboratory.
The results are then sent within 15 days to the person concerned and the treating physician.
Another test is available. It is more effective, more reliable and simpler and, like the previous one, consists of detecting the presence of invisible blood in the stool, only this time it seeks the presence of very precise antibodies.
Several tests to confirm the presence of cancer
After the examination, if the results are positive, the patient must undergo a colonoscopy to determine the presence of a possible tumor. During this examination the intestine is examined with an endoscope and samples are taken if necessary. If the anomaly is more likely to occur in the rectum, a rectoscopy is suggested instead. However, both techniques allow a biopsy to be performed if a suspicious mass is detected.
If a colonoscopy is not possible, another test called Virtual colonoscopy can be used, which, as the name suggests, is a colon-focused scanner. In this way the inside can be visualized without entering the colon. All samples taken during these examinations are sent to laboratories, which determine their type and thus confirm or not the presence of the tumor.
Once the cancer is confirmed, more extensive control examinations are carried out. These include blood tests and other tests to find out more about the type, nature and stage of the cancer.