Colorectal cancer: what is it?
With approximately 70,000 new cases a year, colorectal cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in Germany. The disease affects women and men in equal measure. The word ‘colorectal cancer’ refers to proliferations of malignant cells that can develop in the area of the colon (colon carcinoma) or the rectum (rectum carcinoma).
The good news is: if colorectal cancer is discovered at an early stage, the disease is curable in almost every case. Patients stand between a 90- and 100-percent chance of overcoming this cancer if it is discovered early.
In most cases, colorectal cancer develops from benign polyps. The word ‘polyp’ refers to a protuberance of the mucous membrane, and at first it offers no information as to the nature of a disease. How these changes in the mucous membrane come about is still largely unresolved.
Scientists suspect a connection with the composition of our diets, lack of exercise as well as the consumption of nicotine and alcohol. It is certain that a predisposition to develop such polyps can be inherited. This makes important for patients to advise first- and second-degree relatives (children and grandchildren) of the risk, and for these individuals to take the recommended screening examinations.
Because: over time, the initially benign polyps, which can be removed by appropriately qualified specialists without any special effort, pose a risk of turning into malignant tumours in the course of time. That is why screening is important!
The high number of new cases has left traces in the statistics. Specialists agree that the risk of contracting colorectal cancer significantly increases from the age of 45. This is why even people who are not part of the typical risk group should take advantage of the free offer to have their bowel movements examined for traces of blood that are invisible to the naked eye.
Have you reached the age of 50? ‘Play it safe’ and ask your GP for a so-called ‘occult blood test’. From the age of 55, we recommend that you have a qualified specialist take a look inside your large intestine. Any polyps found there can usually be completely removed during this simple screening examination.
Free screening examinations are intended for all people from the age of 50. Your general practitioner will provide you with the necessary sampling kit – usually a sealable plastic tube and a small spoon. In a laboratory, the roughly bean-sized piece of your stool is examined for minute traces of blood that may be from a polyp in your intestine. If the test is negative three times in a row, chances are good that you do not need to worry about colorectal cancer this year.
From the age of 55, you should give a qualified specialist an opportunity once a year to take a look inside your large intestine. The examination is unpleasant for many people – it is not painful, however. We strongly urge patients of the Colorectal Centre of Pirmasens to avoid the risk of developing colorectal cancer sheerly out of a misunderstood sense of shame.
Important: If you are aware that a close relative – your parents or grandparents – has contracted colorectal cancer, you should definitely speak with your general practitioner. The tendency to develop colorectal cancer is hereditary! You are also a member of a typical risk group if you are suffering from another form of cancer (cancer of the abdomen in women) or chronic inflammation of the colorectal mucosa (ulcerative colitis).
Even if you have already read this note on the previous page – in our view, it cannot be repeated often enough: the risk of contracting colorectal cancer is also very likely to be hereditary! Please consult your general practitioner if:
- You are suffering from colorectal polyps, or such polyps have occurred among members of your immediate family
- Your parents or grandparents suffered from colorectal cancer at a young age
- You are suffering from another form of cancer – among women, there is a known connection with uterine cancer or ovarian cancer
- Chronic inflammation of the colorectal mucosa (ulcerative colitis) has been present for many years
Colorectal cancer is one of the ‘silent diseases’. This means that the cancer can break out without any particular warning sign! If clear symptoms become apparent, usually the disease is so advanced that healing requires extensive measures by appropriately qualified specialists. To keep it from coming to this, you should observe a few simple rules (and take advantage of the free screening examinations that your general practitioner offers you).
- Take a critical glance at your diet: if you eat carbohydrates (potatoes, noodles, etc.) in the evening, you are offering your body a wide range of ways to create an extra padding of fat for hard times.
- Get more exercise – even if it is difficult: the next time you go shopping, just park your car at a distant corner of the car park (keep an umbrella behind the driver’s seat; there are no excuses).
- Eat more fruits and vegetables: you will be amazed at how much fruits you get for the same money you used to spend on fruit yoghurt with added fat and sugar.
- Reduce your alcohol consumption: your acquaintances and colleagues will accept it if you cap off a meal with a cup of espresso instead of a digestive.
- Stop smoking! If nothing helps, try using a combined hypnosis therapy. Keep in mind that nicotine consumption is recognised as the easiest way to increase your cancer risk.
Nowadays, there are (fortunately) a whole range of methods that help qualified specialists to detect colorectal cancer. But because the specialists from the different fields coordinate in each individual case, the patient faces several doctor’s visits.
We believe it is important for you not to view this ‘marathon of doctors’ as an additional burden. Your time and patience make an important contribution towards helping us tailor the diagnosis and treatment to your personal situation in the best way possible.
By the way: neither the rectal tactile examination, nor the colonoscopy that precede an initial (more detailed) diagnosis of a possible colorectal cancer are as unpleasant as you may have thought.