March is bowel cancer awareness month. In Europe, 500,000 new cases are diagnosed each year, associated with more than 240,000 deaths per year. In Portugal, the most recent data points to more than 10,000 cases every year and more than 4,200 deaths.
These are numbers that no one can remain indifferent to and have made us point out some situations which need to be clarified.
In most cases, colorectal cancer begins with an alteration of the cells within the wall of the intestine, where disorganised cell multiplication forms small benign (non-cancerous) tumours or polyps.
Polyps are tissue protrusions on the abdominal wall and, as they increase in size, they can become malignant tumours (cancer).
This transformation is hereditary and/or spontaneous and derives from alterations/mutations of the genes that control the cells.
Remember the signals to watch out for:
- ▪ Persistent change in bowel habits, constipation or diarrhoea (or an alternation of the two), for no apparent reason, and/or very dark stools.
▪ Blood loss from the rectum/anus or mixed with the stool when there is no irritation, pain or itching.
▪ A feeling that the bowel does not empty completely.
▪ Severe pain or abdominal discomfort, with no apparent explanation.
▪ Tiredness and weight loss for no apparent reason.
It is important to remember that most of the symptoms mentioned above do not imply an oncological disease. However, if you experience any of them, you should consult your doctor.
In addition to these symptoms, be aware of the following risk factors:
- ▪ Family history. Have you had any direct relatives with colorectal cancer? If so, did you know that it increases the likelihood of developing the disease?
▪ Age. The probability of having colorectal cancer increases with age, 90% of cases are diagnosed in people over the age of 50.
▪ Genetic alterations. 2% of colorectal cancer diagnoses are derived from genetic mutations due to changes in the HPNCC gene and 1% from the APC.
▪ Inflammatory bowel diseases. People with a history of inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease) are at an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer.
▪ Obesity. Clinical studies have proven that obesity is directly related to colorectal cancer.
▪ Lifestyle. Diets rich in fats, fried food, sugar, red meat, processed meat and low in fruit, legumes and vegetables; excessive alcoholic beverages; smoking; sedentary lifestyle are all high-risk habits.
To detect polyps, tumours or abnormal situations of the colon and rectum, the following screening methods are used:
- ▪ Total colonoscopy, an examination which is highly efficient and is considered the ideal screening method. A colonoscopy permits the removal of polyps during the exam, and currently it is always performed under sedation.
▪ Sigmoidoscopy or Fibrosigmoidoscopy are also screening exams, but they are more limited, as they only permit observation of the interior of the rectum and sigmoid.
Last but not least, be aware and don’t forget the motto: “Prevention and screening save lives”.
Article submitted by the HPA Group