Colorectal Cancer

What is colorectal cancer?

Colorectal cancer starts in the large intestine (colon) or rectum.

What increases my risk for colorectal cancer?

  • Diseases of the colon, such as polyps (small lumps of tissue) or ulcerative colitis

  • A parent, sister, or brother with colon cancer

  • Foods that are high in fat or low in fiber

  • Cigarettes or alcohol

  • Medical conditions such as diabetes or obesity

  • Exposure to chemicals, such as asbestos

What are the signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer?

  • Bloody or black bowel movements

  • Abdominal pain or a feeling of fullness

  • Frequent fatigue or weakness

  • Diarrhea or constipation

  • Rectal pain

  • Unexplained weight loss

How is colorectal cancer diagnosed?

Your caregiver may do yearly screening for colorectal cancer. It is recommended in all men and women over 50 years old. You may have screening earlier if you have colon disease or a family history of colorectal cancer. Your caregiver may need to check a bowel movement sample for blood. Blood in the bowel movement may be a sign of colorectal cancer. You may also need more than one of the following tests:

  • Abdominal ultrasound: An ultrasound uses sound waves to show pictures on a monitor. An ultrasound may be done to find the location of the tumor.

  • Barium enema: A barium enema is an x-ray of the colon. A tube is put into your anus, and a liquid called barium is put through the tube. Barium is used so that caregivers can see your colon better on the x-ray film.

  • Colonoscopy: A colonoscopy is a test that is done to look at your colon. A tube with a light on the end will be put into your anus, and then moved forward into your colon.

  • CT scan: This test is also called a CAT scan. An x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of your abdomen. The pictures may show a tumor or if the cancer has spread. You may be given a dye before the pictures are taken to help caregivers see the pictures better. Tell the caregiver if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye.

How is colorectal cancer treated?

You may need more than one of the following:

  • Surgery: Surgery to remove part of your colon, rectum, or lymph nodes may help stop the cancer from spreading.

  • Targeted therapy: This is medicine used to target specific cancer cells and kill them.

  • Chemotherapy: This medicine, often called chemo, is used to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may also be used to shrink the tumor or lymph nodes before surgery. Once the tumor is smaller, surgery can be done to remove the cancer.

  • Radiation therapy: This therapy is used to kill cancer cells with x-rays or gamma rays. Radiation may be given after surgery to kill cancer cells that were not removed. It may be given alone or with chemotherapy.

What are the risks of colorectal cancer?

You may bleed more than expected or get an infection after surgery. You may get a blood clot in your leg. The clot may travel to your heart or brain and cause life-threatening problems, such as a heart attack or stroke. Even with treatment, you may still have cancer, or the cancer may return. Colorectal cancer that is not treated can spread to other parts of your body, such as your liver. Without treatment, colorectal cancer can be life-threatening.

How can I care for myself during treatment?

  • Drink liquids as directed: Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you. If you have nausea or diarrhea from cancer treatment, extra liquids may help decrease your risk of dehydration.

  • Eat healthy foods: Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. This may help you feel better during treatment and decrease side effects. You may need to change what you eat during treatment. Do not eat foods or drink liquids that cause gas, such as cabbage, beans, onions, or soda. A nutritionist may help to plan the best meals and snacks for you.

  • Exercise: Ask about the best exercise plan for you. Exercise may improve your energy levels and appetite.

Where can I find support and more information?

  • American Cancer Society
    250 Williams Street
    Atlanta , GA 30303
    Phone: 1- 800 - 227-2345
    Web Address: http://www.cancer.org

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • You have a fever.

  • You cannot control your diarrhea or constipation.

  • You vomit multiple times and cannot keep any food or liquids down.

  • Your pain is worse or does not go away after you take your pain medicine.

  • You see blood in your bowel movements.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • Your arm or leg feels warm, tender, and painful. It may look swollen and red.

  • You suddenly feel lightheaded and short of breath.

  • You have chest pain when you take a deep breath or cough. You may cough up blood.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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