Colorectal cancer is cancer that starts in the colon or rectum. The colon and the rectum are parts of the large intestine, which is the lower part of the body’s digestive system. During digestion, food moves through the stomach and small intestine into the colon. The colon absorbs water and nutrients from the food and stores waste matter (stool). Stool moves from the colon into the rectum before it leaves the body.
Most colorectal cancers are adenocarcinomas (cancers that begin in cells that make and release mucus and other fluids). Colorectal cancer often begins as a growth called a polyp, which may form on the inner wall of the colon or rectum. Some polyps become cancer over time. Finding and removing polyps can prevent colorectal cancer.
Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common type of cancer diagnosed in the United States. Deaths from colorectal cancer have decreased with the use of colonoscopies and fecal blood tests, which check for blood in the stool.
Older age is a main risk factor for most cancers. The chance of getting cancer increases as you get older Other risk factors for colorectal cancer include:
- Family history of colon or rectal cancer
- Personal history of colon, rectum or ovarian cancer
- Personal history of colorectal polyps that are 1 cm or larger.
- Personal history of chronic ulcerative colitis or Crohn disease for 8 years or more.
- Drinking three or more alcoholic beverages per day
- Cigarette smoking
- Being of African descent (black)
- Being obese
Signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer include:
- Blood in the stool or a change in bowel habits
- Diarrhea, constipation, or feeling that the bowel does not empty all the way
- Stools that are narrower than usual
- Frequent gas pain, bloating, fullness or cramps
- Weight loss for not apparent reason
- Feeling very tired
Colorectal cancer treatment and chance of recovery depends on the size, location, and how far the cancer has spread. Common treatments include surgery to remove the cancer, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. However, researchers have been working for decades on finding new treatments to improve patient outcomes. These efforts include the development of more effective—and less toxic treatments—such as targeted therapies, immunotherapies, and cancer vaccines. Further development of chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery are also being improved. Some studies are working to improve the patient’s ability to receive effective cancer treatment by managing the treatment’s toxic effects.
By having a better understanding about how specific types of tumors grow, researchers are able to develop targeted therapies and immunotherapies to expand treatment options available to patients with certain types of cancer.
An important part of the research process is patient participation in clinical trials. If joining a clinical trial is a treatment option you’d like to consider, the best place to start is to talk with your doctor or another member of your health care team. Often, your doctor may know about a clinical trial that could be a good option for you. He or she may also be able to search for a trial for you, provide information, and answer questions to help you decide about joining a clinical trial.
Some doctors may not be aware of or recommend clinical trials that could be appropriate for you. If so, you may want to get a second opinion about your treatment options, including taking part in a clinical trial.
If you decide to look for trials on your own, the following steps can guide you in your search. This information should not be used in place of advice from your doctor or other members of your health care team. This guide takes you through the following steps:
- You must know certain details about your cancer diagnosis. You will need to compare these details with the eligibility criteria of any trial that interests you. Eligibility criteria are the guidelines for who can and cannot take part in a certain clinical trial.
- Research available trials. There are many lists of cancer clinical trials taking place in the United States. Some trials are funded by nonprofit organizations, including the U.S. government. Others are funded by for-profit groups, such as drug companies. Hospitals and academic medical centers also sponsor trials conducted by their own researchers. Because of the many types of sponsors, no single list contains every clinical trial.
- Take a closer look at the trials that interest you. Learn about the main purpose of the trial and determine whether a new treatment is safe and well-tolerated. Find out if your cancer diagnosis and overall state of health matches the trial’s eligibility criteria. Talk with your doctor about how quickly you need to make a treatment decision. Some trials prefer you join prior to having any treatment. The location of the trial is also important. For example, some trials may be close to home and others may require you to travel to the site in order to participate.
- Contact the trial team. You can either choose to contact the trial coordinator directly by phone or through their website, or you may have your doctor contact them on your behalf. It is the trial coordinator’s job to decide whether you are likely to be eligible to join the trial. However, a final decision will probably not be made until you have met with a doctor who is part of the trial team.
- Ask questions. Whether it’s you or someone from your healthcare team, it’s important to speak with the clinical trial team to get answers to all of your questions so you can decide whether or not to take part in the trial. Also talk to your doctor before you make a final decision. You will want to know the potential risks and benefits of all treatment options available to you. The final decision to join the trial or not is your choice.
- Make an appointment. If you decide to join a clinical trial for which you are eligible, schedule a visit with the team running the trial.
Don’t forget to stop by one of our stores and pick up your FREE colon cancer screening kit – while supplies last!
Source: National Cancer Institute