Colorectal Cancer and Genetic Testing: What You Need to Know
Colorectal cancer is a type of cancer that affects the colon or rectum. This type of cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States, and the second leading cause of cancer death.
While colorectal cancer is a serious and potentially fatal disease, early detection and treatment can improve outcomes significantly. Genetic testing is also becoming more important in identifying people who are at a higher risk, allowing for earlier detection and more effective prevention strategies.
In this article, we will discuss the basics of colorectal cancer, including its causes and risk factors, symptoms and diagnosis, treatment options, and coping strategies. By increasing awareness and understanding of colorectal cancer, we can work towards earlier detection and improved outcomes for those affected by this disease.
Colorectal Cancer Basics
Colorectal cancer develops when cells in the colon or rectum proliferate and form tumors. While the exact cause of colorectal cancer is unknown, it is thought to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Colorectal cancer risk factors include age, a family history of the disease, a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, and a diet high in processed or red meat (other risk factors include smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and a sedentary lifestyle).
Changes in bowel habits, blood in the stool, abdominal pain or discomfort, and unintended weight loss are all symptoms of colorectal cancer. However, in the early stages of colorectal cancer, many people may not experience any symptoms.
Diagnosing colorectal cancer typically involves a combination of physical exam, imaging tests, and laboratory tests. These may include a colonoscopy, a fecal occult blood test, and a biopsy of the affected tissue.
By understanding the basics of colorectal cancer, including its causes and risk factors, individuals can take steps to reduce their risk and improve outcomes.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Colorectal Cancer
Symptoms can vary widely depending on the stage of the disease. In the early stages, many people may not experience any symptoms at all. As the disease progresses, symptoms may include:
- Changes in bowel habits: This may include constipation, diarrhea, or a change in the size or shape of the stool.
- Blood in the stool: This may appear as bright red blood or as dark, tarry stools.
- Abdominal pain or discomfort: This may include cramping, bloating, or a feeling of fullness.
- Unintended weight loss: This may occur as a result of decreased appetite or changes in the way the body absorbs nutrients.
If colorectal cancer is diagnosed, your healthcare provider may recommend additional tests to determine the extent of the disease, such as imaging tests like a CT scan or MRI. Early diagnosis is important in improving outcomes and preventing the spread of the disease.
Genetic Testing for Colorectal Cancer
Genetic testing can be an important tool in identifying individuals who may be at a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer. Inherited genetic mutations, such as mutations in the APC, BRCA1, or BRCA2 genes, can increase an individual’s risk.
Genetic testing may be recommended for individuals with a family history of colorectal cancer, especially if multiple family members have been diagnosed with the disease. It may also be recommended for individuals with a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease or a history of certain types of cancer, such as ovarian or breast cancer.
It is important to note that not all individuals who carry a genetic mutation associated with colorectal cancer will develop the disease. However, genetic testing can be a valuable tool in identifying individuals who may be at a higher risk and may benefit from more frequent screening or other prevention strategies.
If you are considering genetic testing, it is important to talk to your healthcare provider about your options and what the results may mean for you and your family.
Treatment Options for Colorectal Cancer
The treatment for colorectal cancer depends on the stage of the disease and may involve a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.
Surgery is often the first line of treatment for colorectal cancer and may involve removing part or all of the colon or rectum. In some cases, a temporary or permanent colostomy may be necessary to reroute the digestive system.
In addition to medical treatments, lifestyle changes may also be recommended to help manage colorectal cancer. This may include changes to the diet, such as eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and avoiding red and processed meats. Exercise may also be recommended to help maintain strength and improve overall health.
Coping with a diagnosis of colorectal cancer can be challenging, both emotionally and physically. Support systems, such as counseling and support groups, may be helpful in managing the emotional toll of the disease.
We can work towards earlier detection and better outcomes for those affected by colorectal cancer by increasing awareness and understanding of the disease. If you have symptoms of colorectal cancer or are concerned about your risk, talk to your doctor about diagnostic testing and prevention strategies.