Understanding Colorectal Cancer
- A 70-year-old Australian woman noticed she was experiencing symptoms of a liver abscess before getting diagnosed with colorectal cancer.
- According to a new report, although the symptoms associated with the woman’s diagnosis are rare, a liver abscess could be the first sign of colon cancer.
- Colorectal cancer refers to any type of cancer that starts in the large bowels, such as the colon. The disease begins when polyps grow from the inner lining of the bowel. Usually, these polyps are harmless, but if left untreated, they can become cancerous.
- Symptoms of colorectal cancer can include abdominal pain, changes in bowel movements, changes in stool color, as well as anemia.
- Colorectal cancer screenings have made a big difference in colorectal cancer prevention. But with colorectal cancer cases in younger people on the rise, the recommended age for beginning screening has been moved from 50 to 45.
A liver abscess may be unusual for patients with this type of carcinoma but it is possible to be the first sign of colon cancer, according to a report published in the Science Repository.Read More
After experiencing a week of restlessness and diarrhea, the woman was admitted to a hospital. She denied having any other symptoms like abdominal pain, fever, weight loss, or rectal bleeding.
The woman was later confirmed to have “caecal adenocarcinoma with no distant metastasis” and her liver abscess was healed with “long course intravenous antibiotics.”
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS) adenocarcinoma is the most common type of colon and rectum cancer that begins in the cells that “form glands making mucus to lubricate the inside of the colon and rectum.”
The type of cancer the woman had was caecal adenocarcinoma, meaning it was located in the initial area of the large bowel, located in the lower right section of the abdomen.
The report concluded that although it is unusual, “pyogenic liver abscess can be the first presentation for patients with occult colorectal cancer.”
“‘The eyes do not see what the mind does not know.’ It is essential for clinicians to be aware of the possibility. Colonoscopy is warranted for these patients especially if no clear cause of liver abscess is identified,” the report said.
Understanding Colorectal Cancer
The term colorectal cancer is used to describe cancers that begin in the colon or the rectum – so some people just use the term colon cancer if that’s where the disease began.
Colorectal cancer, like all cancers, presents its own unique challenges for patients on the road to recovery. But Dr. Heather Yeo, a surgical oncologist and colorectal surgeon at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center, wants to remind people how far the treatment of this disease has come.
“One of the most exciting things about my job is that we’ve made a lot of progress on treatment options,” Dr. Yeo says in a previous interview with SurvivorNet. “However, patients are still — while they’re living longer, they are still living with colon cancer, and so I think it’s really important that we talk about how some of the things in your life affect you.”
Colorectal cancer might not immediately cause symptoms, but these are possible symptoms to look out for:
- A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation or narrowing of the stool that lasts for more than a few days
- A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that’s not relieved by having one
- Rectal bleeding with bright red blood
- Blood in the stool, which might make the stool look dark brown or black
- Cramping or abdominal (belly) pain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Unintended weight loss
It is important to note, however, that displaying some of these symptoms does not mean you have colorectal cancer. You could also have colon cancer and not display any of these symptoms. Regardless, it is important to bring up any symptoms to your doctor should they arise.
Dr. Yeo also emphasizes the importance of colorectal cancer screenings such as colonoscopies because most colorectal cancers can be prevented early with screening.
“In the United States, on a national level, colorectal cancer has been decreasing for the last 20 years,” Dr. Yeo says. “And much of that is thought to be directly due to screening for colon cancer.”
Even still, colorectal cancer cases are rising among younger people. And in the United States alone, rates have increased every year from 2011 to 2016 by 2% among people younger than 50. Because of this increase, the United States Preventive Services Task Force has recently updated its colorectal cancer screening recommendations to begin at age 45 instead of 50.
“We know that colon cancers can be prevented when polyps are found early,” Dr. Yeo said. “Lowering the screening age helps somewhat with this. But access to care is a real problem.”
And increasing access is crucial to making sure that we don’t see racial disparities within the world of colorectal cancer. Whites and Asians are significantly more likely to be up to date with their colonoscopies than African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans.
Research suggests that tailoring colon cancer screenings to each person’s individual risk may be beneficial. If you are not yet 45 but have concerns about your risk, talk to your doctor. Ask about your individual risk based on your lifestyle and family history and find out when screenings would be right for you.
Who Needs to Be Screened for Colorectal Cancer?
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that people between the ages of 45-75 get screened regularly for colorectal cancer, and that those older than 75 talk to their doctor about their need for screening. As rates of colon cancer have increased among younger Americans, however, some experts believe screening should begin sooner.
There are some things that may put you at higher risk for colon cancer. They include things like your age (those age 50 and older are more likely to get it) and having a family history of colon cancer. There are, however, also risk factors that you can control to some degree. For example, the following may put you at higher risk for colon cancer:
- An unhealthy diet
- Heavy alcohol use
- Being overweight
- Physical inactivity
While there may be no symptoms of colon cancer in its earliest stages, there are some common warning signs, including a change in the color or shape of bowel movements, constipation, bloating, diarrhea, blood in the stool and unexplained weight loss. Anyone who experiences these symptoms, no matter their age or risk factors, should see their doctor.
Contributing: SurvivorNet Staff