According to Colon Cancer Alliance
“In fact, it is estimated that in 2013, 50,830 people will die of colon cancer. But the truth is: it doesn’t have to be this way. If everyone 50 years or older had a regular screening test, as many as 80% of deaths from colon cancer could be prevented.”
The team at our cancer center knows that a colon cancer diagnosis can be very overwhelming. Often people find it embarrassing to talk about colorectal or colon cancer. If colon cancer is discovered early, it is highly treatable. Most colorectal cancers are contributed to lifestyle factors and increasing age, while only a small number of cases are caused by underlying genetic disorders. Other risk factors include diet, obesity, smoking, and not enough physical activity, as well as inflammatory bowel diseases. Even if it spreads into nearby lymph nodes, surgical treatment followed by chemotherapy can be highly successful. If it is a difficult case when the cancer has metastasized to the liver, lungs or other sites, treatment can prolong and add to one’s quality of life but not cure. Over 95% of colon and rectal cancers are adenocarcinomas. These are cancers that start in gland cells, like the cells that line the inside of the colon and rectum.
Typical Symptoms of Rectal Cancer
- Not being able to completely empty the bowel
- Change in the size or shape of stools (narrower than usual)
- Bloody stool (either bright red or very dark)
- Pain in the rectum
- Abdominal pain or discomfort
- More frequent gas pains or stomach cramps
- Feeling bloated or full
- Change in appetite
- Unintended weight loss
- Fatigue or tiredness
Role of Radiation Therapy in Rectal Cancer Treatment
Treatments used for colorectal cancer may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or a combination of any.
* Before Surgery: Radiation may be used before the surgery to shrink the tumor, or to help lower the risk of the cancer coming back later.
* After surgery: Radiation can also be used after surgery, to kill any cancer cells that may have been left behind (but couldn’t be seen). This lowers the chance that the cancer will come back later.
* For people who can’t have surgery: Radiation can be given to help control rectal cancers in people who are not healthy enough for surgery.
* For advanced cancers: Radiation can also be used to help ease symptoms such as intestinal blockage, bleeding, or pain. It is also be used to treat colon cancer that has spread, most often if the spread is to the bones or brain.
Types of radiation treatment
There are three types of radiation treatment that can be utilized for the treatment of rectal cancer.
External-beam radiation therapy: In this treatment, radiation is focused on the cancer from a machine outside the body. This is the type most often used for people with colon or rectal cancer. Treatments are given 5 days a week for many weeks. Each treatment lasts only a few minutes, but the setup time — getting you into place for treatment — usually takes longer.
Endocavitary radiation therapy: For some small rectal tumors radiation can be given with a small device that is placed through the anus and into the rectum. Each treatment takes just a few minutes and then the device is removed. This is repeated about 3 more times about 2-weeks apart for the full dose. This treatment allows radiation to reach the rectum without passing through the skin and other nearby tissues.
Brachytherapy (internal radiation therapy): In this method, small pellets or seeds of radioactive material are placed next to or right into the cancer. The radiation travels only a short distance, limiting the effects on nearby healthy tissues. This method is sometimes used in treating people with rectal cancer, particularly sick or older people who would not be able to go through surgery.