Colorectal cancer, also known as bowel cancer, colon cancer, or rectal cancer, is any cancer that affects the colon and the rectum.
It is one of the top leading causes of cancer death in women and men.
However, health experts say that just like other cancers, colorectal cancer can be prevented and treated, if detected early.
Francois Uwinkindi, the director of Cancer Diseases Unit at Rwanda Biomedical Centre, says that it occurs when some of the cells that line the colon or rectum become abnormal and grow out of control.
He notes that these abnormal growing cells then create a tumour, which is the cancer.
He says that knowing one has the disease is not easy, and explains that this is because in its early stage, colorectal cancer usually doesn’t have symptoms.
“Because of this, it’s better for people to go for check-ups and screening often, so that such diseases can be identified early, thus making the treatment easy and affordable,” he says.
However, he say, as it grows, one will notice symptoms, and they should therefore seek medical assistance as soon as possible.
Some of the common symptoms he says are changes in bowel movements, including constipation or diarrhoea that are persistent.
Bleeding or cramping in your rectum, feeling discomfort or bloating in the belly, fatigue, loss of appetite, and weight loss, as well as pelvic pain, are other symptoms, Uwinkindi says.
This type of cancer, Uwinkindi says, involves certain risk factors, for instance, age.
He says that the disease is most common in people over the age of 50, and that the chance of getting it increases with age. However, younger people can still get colorectal cancer.
Another factor, he says, is gender; he explains that colorectal cancer is more common in men although women are also at risk.
He says if there is history of the disease, one can be at risk of developing it.
“If one already had colorectal cancer, they can get it again, especially if they had it much earlier. Also, people who have chronic inflammatory conditions of the colon are more likely to develop it than other people,” Uwinkindi says.
Francis Kazungu, a general practitioner in Kigali, says for any cancer, including colorectal, there is no precise prevention method, however, there are things one can adapt to that help lower the risk.
For instance, Kazungu says, going for regular screening often is best; here, one can be checked for cancer or pre-cancer even if you have no symptoms of the disease.
“This is one of the most effective methods of preventing colorectal cancer. People above the age of 45 should start getting screened for colorectal cancer,” he says.
He advises that if one has a strong family history of colorectal, or any kind of cancer, they should be screened often to prevent the chances of getting the disease.
Joseph Uwiragiye, a nutritionist at University Teaching Hospital Kigali (CHUK), says that one can still lower their risk of getting cancer by managing some risk factors that can be controlled, such as their diet.
He says that if one is overweight or obese, it increases the risk of getting cancer, therefore, staying healthy and avoiding weight gain can help lower the risk of colorectal cancer.
He says that increasing physical activity also lowers the risk of colorectal cancer.
“When it comes to physical activity, what people should know is that it doesn’t mean you have to be involved in vigorous and strenuous activities, rather, regular and moderate activity is ideal,” he says.
Uwiragiye notes that diets that include vegetables, fruits, and whole grains (low in red and processed meats) have been linked to lower colorectal cancer risk.
Treatment will depend on several factors, including the size, location, and stage of the cancer, whether or not it is recurrent, and the current overall state of health of the patient.
Celestine Karangwa, a physiotherapist at TCM Technology Clinic in Kicukiro, says that depending on the stage of the cancer and other factors, treatment may include local therapies, meaning that tumour can be treated without affecting the rest of the body. However, he says that these treatments are useful in early stages of cancer.
He says that colorectal cancer can as well be treated using drugs, which can be given by mouth or injected directly into the blood stream.
Treatment options also include chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and surgery.
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