author/s: Dr Xavier Llor Farré
Is early detection possible in this type of cancer?
Colorectal cancer is a very slow growing cancer. Furthermore, there are now techniques available that enable detection even at the initial stages of development of this type of cancer. The most efficient type is colonoscopy. If colorectal cancer is detected by means of this technique and it is still small, it can be surgically removed at the same time the test is done.
Is early detection efficient?
Early detection of this cancer has been shown to be extremely efficient. Multiple studies have demonstrated that if detected at initial stages, survival after treatment reaches approximately 95% where as it does not reach 50% if detected in more advanced stages.
What methods of early detection are there?
The methods used for early detection are hidden blood in the faeces, colonoscopy, opaque enema, and still under validation, virtual colonoscopy. Different strategies have been designed that employ one or more of these tests with a good percentage of detections.
What are the most effective methods?
Without a doubt, colonoscopy is the definitive test for diagnosis. Colonoscopy not only detects cancer but also allows the clinician to do a biopsy to analyse the tumour. Tests that check for hidden blood in the faeces, in combination with colonoscopy, have proven very efficient. The simplicity of the first allows for a general screening of the population with no risk and good effectiveness. However, in the end, all these tests require a colonoscopy if any abnormality has been detected. This is the only detect providing a definitive diagnosis.
Who is at the highest risk of cancer?
The risk to suffer from colorectal cancer increases noticeably after the age of 50. Nevertheless, there are some circumstances that make a certain individual be at higher risk, and thus, such individual should be monitored earlier. We are referring to people who have a relative with this type of cancer, people with different types of cancer in the family, patients with a history of intestinal inflammatory diseases, and above all, people with familial syndromes of colorectal cancer, such as the Adenomatous Polyposis Syndrome or Lynch´s syndrome.
What manifestations can be associated with this type of cancer? And, when these signs appear, do we need to rule it out?
The most important thing is to detect this type of cancer when it is still hidden. This is the best stage to catch in time. The symptoms usually appear when the tumour has already reached a considerable size and the tumour is already at an advanced stage. The best time to detect this cancer is when the patient is feeling OK and nothing is suggestive of cancer. The signs and symptoms that might accompany colorectal cancer are: rectal bleeding, stomach pain, pain in the intestine, changes in the size and frequency of bowel movements, or anaemia.