Localised colorectal (bowel) cancer may cause changes in bowel function (diarrhoea, constipation, trouble passing stools, flatulence), bloody stools, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and general fatigue. A localised cancer may also be completely asymptomatic.
Colorectal cancer can be detected by testing the person’s stools for microscopic amounts of blood. A preliminary colorectal cancer diagnosis is then confirmed by a biopsy taken in conjunction with colonoscopy (endoscopy of the large bowel). The stage and spread of the cancer are typically assessed with a CT scan. The local spread of rectal cancer is best assessed by MRI.
Treatment and follow-up at Docrates Hospital
The primary treatment for localised colorectal cancer is surgery. In the case of rectal cancer that has spread through the bowel wall or into lymph nodes, local radiotherapy at Docrates Hospital may be necessary prior to surgery. The concomitant use of radiotherapy and chemotherapy may reduce the spread of locally advanced rectal cancer to such an extent that surgery becomes possible. After surgery, patients may be given chemotherapy (cytostatics) depending on the presence of risk factors. Even some metastatic cancers can be cured with surgery and chemotherapy.
The purpose of post-treatment follow-up is to identify and treat any late symptoms that sometimes occur as the result of cancer or its treatment and to identify any recurrence at an early stage.
General information about colorectal cancer
In 2007, a total of 1,567 new colon cancers and 992 rectal or anal cancers were diagnosed in Finland. According to American statistics, one person in 19 will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in their lifetime.
Factors increasing the risk of colon cancer include being aged over 50, the presence of adenomas in the bowel, a history of colon cancer in close relatives, and certain hereditary conditions such as hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer (HNPCC) and familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP). Other factors associated with an increased cancer risk include a history of colorectal cancer, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and smoking. Information on the effects of nutritional factors is somewhat conflicting. Heavy consumption of animal fats and an insufficient intake of calcium, folic acid and fibre may increase the risk of cancer.
The risk of cancer can be reduced by removing benign adenomas during colonoscopy. A study on colorectal cancer screening among 60–69-year-olds based on faecal occult blood testing is currently underway in Finland.