Although often lumped under the same generic name — colorectal cancer, it’s worth noting that colon cancer and rectal cancer aren’t the same. It’s essential to know the difference as that will affect your treatment options and prognosis. Both rectal and colon cancer affect the large intestine, but, crucially, they start in different places. Colon cancer begins anywhere in the colon, whereas rectal cancer starts in the rectum (i.e., the last 12 centimetres of the colon)
Typically, people with a family history of cancer, smokers and those with obesity have a higher tendency to get this kind of disease.
Most colon and rectal cancer begin as a small growth in the bowel wall called colorectal adenoma. If left untreated, colon cancer can grow into the muscle layers underneath and then through the bowel wall.
Many of the same symptoms can be attributed to colon and rectal cancer. However, depending on the location of the tumor and whether or not it has metastasized, there will be significant differences. Generally speaking, common symptoms are as follows:
Physicians typically employ the same approach to diagnose both types of colorectal cancer; this could be an occult blood test, endoscopic exam, or colonoscopy. The most common initial course of action is a colonoscopy. In this procedure, a doctor uses a tube to see the inside of your colon and rectum. If they find areas that could be cancerous, the doctor will remove a small sample for a biopsy test.
Note: In terms of early prevention, small growths in the colon, called polyps, may need to come out even if they are not yet cancerous.
The first phase of treatment for colon cancer is typically a partial colectomy, where a surgeon removes a section of the colon. If the surgery goes well, you will resume regular bowel movements. But this is not always possible. In such cases, you will require a colostomy; whereby the surgeon will connect the colon to a hole in your abdomen (ostomy). You’ll then have a colostomy bag attached to the ostomy to collect bowel movements. Furthermore, chemotherapy will be recommended if the cancer affects a particularly dense part of the colon or has spread to the lymph nodes.
For rectal cancer, doctors will first opt for surgery if they believe they can successfully remove the entire tumour. This will often be performed in conjunction with chemotherapy and radiation therapy, to shrink the tumour before surgery or kill any remaining abnormal cells. When a surgeon performs a rectal cancer operation, they will try to cut out all cancerous tissue without removing the anal sphincter (this muscle controls bowel movements). However, in some cases, this is not possible because the tumour is too close to the muscle. In such instances, a colostomy will be required.
Like with my cancers, colorectal cancer can often be prevented with regular screenings, and lifestyle and diet modification. As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.” But if you do find yourself requiring colorectal cancer treatment in Bangkok, make sure you make the expert specialists at Vejthani Hospital your first stop.