The AnMed Health oncology team in Anderson treats all types of colorectal cancer, including colon cancer, rectal cancer and anal cancer. If you or someone you love has been affected by colorectal cancer, you deserve to work with a health care team you can trust to provide effective solutions and conscientious care. Our dedicated oncology team utilizes cutting-edge technology and best-practice techniques to ensure our patients receive timely and accurate screening and diagnostic results.
What is colorectal cancer?
Colorectal cancer refers to cancer that starts in either the colon or the rectum, which make up the lower end of the digestive system.
After food is eaten, it travels to the stomach where it is partly broken down before it's sent to the small intestine. Most of the food’s nutrients are absorbed in the small intestine as they travel to the colon. The colon absorbs water and remaining nutrients from the food. The colon also stores waste matter (stool), which eventually moves from the colon into the rectum. From there, stools pass out of the body through the opening called the anus.
The walls of the colon and rectum are made up of layers of tissues. Colorectal cancer starts in the inner layer and can grow through some or all of the other layers. The stage of cancer depends on how deep it goes into these layers.
Most colorectal cancers start as a polyp — a growth that starts in the inner lining and grows into the center of the colon or rectum. A benign polyp is noncancerous—but it can turn into cancerous polyps at a later stage, which is why it's important to have these polyps removed by a colorectal doctor. Removing a polyp early may prevent it from becoming cancer.
The only way to know for sure if you have colorectal cancer is to consult with a doctor, and sometimes there aren't any warning signs. If signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer do develop, they may include the following:
- Unintended or unexplained weight loss
- Blood in the stool
- Unusual changes in your bowel habits
- A feeling of pressure, fullness or insufficient emptying of the bowels
- Persistent stomach pain and cramping
We know it might be hard to talk to a doctor about health problems involving this area of the body, but getting prompt care for a problem can prevent future complications. Never hesitate to speak with a professional about your concerns. Our Anderson colorectal oncology team provides discreet and professional guidance for all our patients.
Colorectal screenings and diagnosis
Getting screened for colorectal cancer and getting prompt treatment for any colorectal condition is extremely important. Colorectal cancer can be highly treatable, especially if detected early, as is the case with a colorectal cancer diagnosis.
Anyone between the ages of 50 and 75 should be screened for colorectal cancer. Some people may need to be screened earlier or more frequently, including those with a family history of colorectal cancer, those with a personal history of polyps, those with a personal history of IBD, or patients with certain genetic conditions that increase the risk of colorectal disorders.
Types of screenings
There isn't a single best test for screening or diagnosing colon, anal or rectal cancer. When you work with a colorectal oncologist in Anderson, we'll help you determine the most cost-effective and appropriate course of screening based on your needs. Common types of screening include:
- Highly sensitive fecal immunochemical test (FIT) — This test uses antibodies to detect the presence of blood in a sample of stool. You can even collect this stool sample yourself at home, then send the sample into a lab.
- Highly sensitive guaiac-based fecal occult blood test — This test uses a chemical known as guaiac to detect the presence of blood in the stool.
- Multi-targeted stool DNA test — This test can detect abnormalities within your stool that may indicate signs of colorectal cancer.
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy — This test is done in the doctor's office; one of our Anderson colorectal physicians will insert a small, thin, flexible tube into the rectum. This tube has a tiny camera on the end, which allows your doctor to see inside the rectum and lower part of your colon and assess for polyps or other issues. We typically recommend this test every 5 to 10 years.
- Barium enema — This exam uses an x-ray to detect changes or abnormalities in the colon.
- Colonoscopy — This exam uses a long, flexible tube with a camera at the end. The tube is inserted into the rectum allowing doctors to view the inside of the colon.
Colorectal cancer surgery
Surgery is the most common type of colorectal cancer treatment, particularly when colorectal cancer is in its early stage and can still be resected. Generally speaking, surgery is considered a type of localized treatment, but if cancer has spread to other tissues or areas of the body then systemic treatments may be required in addition to surgical interventions.
Local surgical treatments
- Polypectomy — Surgical removal of polyps inside the colon; this procedure is minimally invasive and can be performed during a routine colonoscopy
- Local excision/resection — Surgical instruments are inserted through a colonscope (a device doctors use to see inside the rectum and colon) to remove cancerous cells and tissues inside the rectum; some surrounding healthy tissue may be removed as well
- Transanal excision (TAE) — Surgical removal of cancer cells as well as some normal surrounding tissue, done by cutting through all layers of the rectal wall; a doctor can do this by inserting instruments into the rectum through the anus
- Diverting colostomy — A procedure where the colon above the cancer is brought out to the skin level to allow stool to pass into a bag. This is usually done if the cancer is advanced and blocking off the intestine, preventing stool from getting through to the anus.
- Colostomy/ileostomy — In this procedure, a surgeon brings a section of the large intestine (colostomy) or small intestine (ileostomy) up to the skin. The patient's stool passes out of this intestine and collects in a bag. Sometimes the colostomy/ileostomy is permanent, other times it is temporary. These are often parts of large procedures.
- Colectomy — Any surgical procedure that removes some or all of a person's colon (large intestine); these surgeries may be done via open technique or laparoscopic-assisted technique
- Partial colectomy — Removal of part of the colon
- Hemicolectomy — Removal of the right or left part of the colon
- Total colectomy —Removal of the entire colon
- Low anterior resection (LAR) — This procedure is generally done for more advanced stages of colorectal cancer affecting the upper part of the rectum; it involves the surgical removal of the part of the rectum containing the cancerous tumor or tissue (right away or sometime later, the lower part of the colon is attached to the remaining part of the rectum). This surgery requires general anesthesia and is done through several small incisions in the abdomen.
- Proctectomy with colo-anal anastomosis — Surgical removal of the entire rectum, with a reconnection between the colon and a spot just above the anus. The patient will get a temporary ileostomy or colostomy.
- Abdominoperineal resection — The surgical removal of the anus and rectum; a permanent colostomy is created. This type of surgery is used to treat cancers that are very low in the rectum.
- Pelvic exenteration — A major surgical procedure in which the surgeon removes the rectum and any nearby organs to which the cancer has spread, including the prostate (in men), uterus (in women) or bladder.
Systemic colorectal cancer treatment helps target, destroy and remove cancer cells that have spread to other areas of the body. At AnMed Health, we often utilize systemic treatments including:
- Radiation treatment — the use of radiation to kill cancer cells in a localized area
- Chemotherapy — the use of strong drugs to kill cancer cells
- Targeted therapies — a relatively newer class of medications (including bevacizumab, cetuximab, panitumumab, regorafenib, ramucirumab and ziv-aflibercept) that are typically more useful for people with more advanced stages of colorectal cancer
Side effects of colorectal surgery
Like any medical procedure, colorectal surgery does come with a risk of side effects. Ultimately, many factors will affect whether you experience side effects of colorectal surgery, including the type and length of surgery and your overall health. Side effects are usually mild and get better with time, but may include:
- A leak where the colon was connected back together
- Injury to adjacent organs
- Blood clots
- In some cases, sexual dysfunction or fertility issues may develop.
Always call your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about your recovery from colorectal surgery, or if you experience any of the following signs or symptoms:
- Persistent bleeding
- Worsening nausea, vomiting, bloating, cramps, hiccups, or other signs of digestive upset
- Warmth and redness around your surgical site or incision
- Pus-like drainage from the surgical site (it may be discolored or foul-smelling)
- Lack of bowel movement within a few days after surgery
Preparing for colorectal surgery
As you prepare for colorectal surgery, our Anderson colorectal oncology and surgical team will be with you every step of the way. We'll provide thorough instructions and give you plenty of opportunities to ask questions, so you can feel more confident when you come in for your procedure.
The exact "bowel prep" to-do's you'll need to follow will vary depending on your situation, including the type of surgery you'll be getting. Here are some general recommendations you can expect:
- Avoid solid foods at least 24 hours prior to surgery, and don't eat or drink anything after midnight on the day of your operation
- Drink lots of clear liquids
- Take all medications as prescribed
- Arrange for safe transportation home after surgery
Colorectal surgery recovery
After you've had your colorectal surgery, we encourage you to listen to your body and never hesitate to talk to a doctor with concerns. Our Anderson surgery clinic staff will also work with you to make sure you know how to take care of yourself as you recover from this procedure.
Many patients who undergo colorectal procedures will have a short hospital stay to ensure everything goes well. Once you get home from your surgery, we often recommend the following strategies and reminders:
- Get moving! In most cases, you should be able to return to normal daily activities, such as walking, climbing stairs and showering as soon as you feel up to it. Just check with a physician before you start driving, and avoid anything that causes a lot of pain or is very strenuous, such as intense exercise or lifting anything more than about 20 pounds. Sometimes, we recommend working with a physical therapist or occupational therapist in the short-term to help you regain your function.
- Avoid taking baths or using swimming pools or hot tubs until your incisions have fully healed and your doctors have given you the all-clear.
- Fuel yourself with low-fiber foods and try to eat small meals. Avoid raw fruits and veggies in the first couple of weeks. Your colorectal team at AnMed Health will help you figure out when you can return to your regular diet during follow-up visits and may suggest a consult with a dietitian or nutritionist.
- Expect to have a bowel movement within a few days of getting home, and understand that some temporary bloating, loose stools or feelings of fullness are normal.
- Take all your medications as prescribed.
Comprehensive colorectal cancer care in Anderson
Around 1 in 23 men and 1 in 25 women will be diagnosed with some form of colorectal cancer in their lifetime, and millions of others are living with conditions like Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis and related conditions affecting the lower part of their digestive tract. Fortunately, great advances and innovations in colon cancer diagnosis, screening and treatment have helped improve the lifespan and quality of life in people affected by these conditions. For over a century, AnMed Health has served the greater Anderson, SC community with comprehensive and personalized medical care services. It's our pleasure to support our neighbors from upstate South Carolina and northeast Georgia who are facing a range of acute or chronic health conditions, including colorectal cancer and related diagnoses. Contact us today to schedule an appointment with a colorectal oncologist in Anderson, SC.