Colorectal cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. Beginning as a small, usually benign, growth (polyp) on the surface of the colon or rectum lining, these clumps of cells can grow and become malignant.
Types and Causes of Colorectal Cancer
The exact causes of colorectal cancer remain unknown, but there are some risk factors that have been identified as potential contributors. These include:
- Advanced age – Over 90% of people diagnosed with colorectal cancer are age 50 or older.
- African American or eastern European ancestry – Certain gene mutations that lead to an increased risk of colorectal cancer have been found in these racial and ethnic groups.
- A meat-heavy diet – Diets that include a lot of red meat (especially processed meat) and are low in fiber are associated with a higher risk of colorectal cancer, while diets high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are associated with a lower risk.
- High alcohol intake – People who use alcohol heavily have a higher risk of colorectal cancer.
- Excess body weight – Being overweight increases a person’s chance of getting colorectal cancer.
- Lack of exercise – Regular exercise decreases the risk of getting colorectal cancer.
- Type-2 diabetes – Those with diabetes and insulin resistance may be at a greater risk for colorectal cancer.
- Chronic inflammatory bowel disease – Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are associated with a higher risk of colorectal cancer.
- A history of colon polyps – While many people over 50 develop benign colorectal polyps, a type of polyp called an adenomatous polyp increases a person’s risk of colorectal cancer.
- Smoking – Just as it increases the risks of many other cancers, smoking also heightens the risk of developing colorectal cancer.
- Family history – While most patients who develop colon cancer have no family history of colon cancer, having a first-degree relative who has been diagnosed with colon cancer infers an increased risk.
Colorectal Cancer Symptoms and Diagnosis
In the early stages of colorectal cancer, the cells in colon polyps lose their genetically controlled natural cycle of cell death and replacement, and growth continues unabated. This malignant degeneration of the polyp soon invades the colon wall, and through the lymphatics and blood, spreads to the liver and beyond.
Initially, colorectal cancer is rarely symptomatic. As the disease progresses, symptoms occur, and may include lower abdominal pain or bloating, unexplained weight loss, fatigue, loss of appetite, blood in the stool, and a change in one’s usual bowel habits, either in texture or frequency of bowel movement.
Diagnosis of colorectal cancer is usually achieved through visualization of the lower GI tract, most often by colonoscopy.
A polyp seen at colonoscopy can often be completely removed and examined by a pathologist for any evidence of malignancy. Should there be a large tumor present, biopsies can be obtained through the colonoscope. Removal of pre-malignant polyps , or those with cancer confined to the polyp, can be curative, however, polyps can arise in other parts of the colon over time. Should there be concern of any spread of the cancer, body imaging tests ( CT, MRI ,PET scans), may be administered as well.
Colon and Rectal Cancer Screening
Screening for colorectal cancer, as differentiated from diagnostic evaluation of symptomatic patients, is an essential part of any wellness program.
The most recent recommendations from the American Cancer Society, the US Multi-Society Task Force on Colorectal Cancer, and the American College of Radiology are that all asymptomatic persons should begin colorectal cancer screening at age 50. There are several methods for this, each with its strengths and weaknesses. They include colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy with fecal occult blood testing and/or barium enema, and virtual colonoscopy.
These options should be discussed with your primary care doctor. For patients with a first degree family member diagnosed with colon cancer, generally screening should begin at an age 10 years before the age the relative was diagnosed. In some cases, where the appears to be a genetic predisposition for colon cancer, screening should occur much sooner, and on the recommendations of your doctor.
Alternative & Traditional Treatments for Colorectal Cancer
Treatment for colorectal cancer is based on a number of variables; stage (limited or metastatic), location, patient health and an informed consent decision by the patient. Conventional treatments may include colonoscopy with polyp removal, surgery to remove large tumors with possible resection of the colon, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Significant side effects occur with most of these treatment modalities, and the recommendation for any treatment protocol should include consultation with an oncologist, surgeon, and possibly a radiation oncologist. The final decision for what path to take is ultimately up to the patient who has been thoroughly informed of all options, their risks and benefits.
Alternatives to conventional colorectal cancer treatment are available. These alternatives take into account not only the patient’s physical well-being but also their mental and spiritual health. In many cases, they are used in conjunction with t conventional treatment methods as part of an integrative approach, using therapies from complementary medicine and conventional medicine to maximize quality of life while undergoing treatment. Nutrition , lifestyle changes, and complementary treatments and procedures believed to facilitate both general health and well-being, along with chemotherapy, are what integrative medicine, and specifically integrative cancer treatment, is about.
The integrative approach to cancer treatment here includes Insulin Potentiation Therapy (IPT) , a method in which a hypoglycemic state, induced by insulin administration given in a safe and closely monitored setting, is believed to increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy. This treatment is administered on a weekly basis (fractionated) and at a lower dose, significantly reducing toxicities normally associated with chemotherapy. The protocol is tailored for you, using appropriate chemotherapy drugs based on recommendations of conventional oncologic sources, such as the National Cancer Institute and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.
Complementary treatment modalities include hyperbaric oxygen therapy, hyperthermia and high dose vitamin C infusions, among others.