When food is chewed and then swallowed, it travels down the esophagus and into the stomach. The stomach partially breaks the food down which then enters the small intestines. The small intestine is the longest part of the digestive system (about 20 feet). Its function is to continue breaking down the food particles and absorb most of the nutrients.
The broken down particles that remain go into the colon (large intestine) which then absorbs water and more nutrients from the food particles and also serves as a storage place for waste matter (stool). The colon begins at the end of the small intestine on the right side of the body at a place called the cecum. Your waste matter moves from the colon into the rectum, which is the last 6 inches of the digestive system.
Colorectal cancer is cancer that starts in either the colon or the rectum. Most colorectal cancers start as a polyp (pah-lip) – a growth that starts in the inner lining of the colon or rectum. Most polyps are not cancerous. However, polyps called ‘adenomas’ have a greater probability of becoming cancerous. Adenocarcinomas represent over 95% of colon and rectal cancers in the United States. These cancers form in gland cells inside the colon and rectum.
The key to a higher cure rate for colon cancer is early detection. Resection of the polyp will prevent the polyp from developing into a cancer. The resection can be done endoscopically, at the time of colonoscopy, or if the polyp is too large it can be removed surgically.
Treatment options include surgery alone for early cancers, while more advanced malignancies may require the consideration of chemotherapy and/ or radiation therapy.
Colorectal surgery ranges from polyp removal to removal of a larger section of the colon with surrounding lymph nodes. The type of rectal or colon cancer surgery performed depends on a variety of factors including the exact location of the tumor and the stage of the cancer.
Early detection of cancer is essential for success of the least invasive treatment options. We have produced a free e-book on how to detect and prevent common cancers, and when you need to have screenings with your family physician.