March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

Li-fen L. Chang, MD

Li-fen L. Chang, MD, radiation oncologist at Southern Ohio Medical Center, reminds everyone that March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

“About 150,000 Americans will be diagnosed with cancer of the colon and rectum this year (out of 1.4 million total cancer diagnoses), ” she says. “The disease affects men and women equally. Often, there are no signs of colorectal cancer, but symptoms can include change in bowel movements, abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, unexplained weight loss and fatigue.”

Risk factors for the disease include family history of colorectal cancer, a history of polyps in the colon, ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.

The American Cancer Society recommends both men and women over age 50 be screened for colorectal cancer. If you have a family history of the disease, ask your doctor about earlier screening.

There are several screening tests for colorectal cancer. The best-known test is the colonoscopy. To perform this test, doctors insert a thin, flexible, lighted tube into the rectum to look for signs of cancer. If doctors see something unusual, they may remove some tissue and examine it under a microscope.

If you are diagnosed with colorectal cancer it’s important to talk about your options with several doctors, including a radiation oncologist, a surgical oncologist and a medical oncologist, to find the treatment that’s best for you.

Surgery is the main treatment for early-stage colorectal cancer. If the disease has not spread, surgery alone may cure your cancer.

Radiation therapy is the careful use of radiation to treat cancer. Radiation therapy works within cancer cells by damaging their ability to multiply. Radiation may be given before surgery to shrink a tumor to make it easier to remove or after surgery to kill any cancer cells that may remain. For rectal cancer, doctors use radiation to keep the cancer from returning. This also helps prevent the need to remove the anus, thus preserving normal bowel function.

Chemotherapy is medicine designed to help kill cancer cells. It may be given before or after surgery and often with radiation.

Doctors at Southern Ohio Medical Center offer all three types of treatments. For an appointment call the SOMC Cancer Center at (740) 356-7490. Visit the Cancer Center online at www.somccancer.org.

To learn more about colorectal cancer and how to treat it, visit www.rtanswers.org or call the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology at (800) 962-7876 for a free brochure.