Colorectal Cancer Can Be Highly Treatable – With the Right Timing and Latest Treatments
As I entered the exam room, I met a very nice gentleman who had one big concern: colorectal cancer. I introduced myself and then asked some questions, first to get to know him as a person, then as a new member of our OHC family, and then as a patient with cancer. He came to me after a colonoscopy indicated he had Stage 3B cancer. I assured him he would receive the best, newest treatments and that our entire care team would be with him through his entire cancer journey.
For this gentleman and many other patients, colon, colorectal and rectal cancer can be highly treatable, especially if hasn’t spread to other parts of the body. In fact, the death rate from colorectal cancer has been decreasing in both men and women for several decades. There are a number of likely reasons for this, one of which is that treatment for colorectal cancer has improved over the last few decades. As a result, there are now more than one million survivors of colorectal cancer in the United States.
One of the newest treatments for advanced colorectal cancer, available at OHC, is the use of targeted therapy. Targeted therapy uses drugs or other substances to more precisely identify and attack cancer cells, different from standard chemotherapy drugs that can attack the surrounding healthy cells. We use these drugs – including bevacizumab (Avastin), ramucirumab (Cyramza), and ziv-aflibercept (Zaltrap) – to remove the brakes from the body’s immune system and allow it to attack cancer without harming nearby healthy cells.
Another exciting area of treatment is the field of immunotherapy. This is a treatment that uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. OHC has been aggressively involved in the research and use of immunotherapy drugs such as Pembrolizumab (Keytruda) and nivolumab (Opdivo). With colorectal cancer, these drugs target the protein PD-1, which when blocked, boosts the immune response against cancer cells.
Any time we can extend the survival rate of a patient, we are extending the time their family and friends get to be with them. And it’s not just an extension of time. It’s also a very good quality of life thanks to these new and existing treatments. Still, the best offense is prevention. Talk with your doctor to determine if you are at risk for colon cancer. This can include:
- Inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
- A personal or family history of colorectal cancer or colorectal polyps.
- A genetic syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)External or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome).
Lifestyle factors that may contribute to an increased risk of colorectal cancer include:
- Lack of regular physical activity
- A diet low in fruit and vegetables.
- A low-fiber and high-fat diet, or a diet high in processed meats.
- Overweight and obesity.
- Alcohol consumption.
- Tobacco use.
Another important factor is timing. If you have any of these symptoms, be sure to see your doctor right away because the sooner we catch colorectal cancer, the better the outcome: Blood in or on your stool, stomach pain, aches, or cramps that don’t go away, or losing weight and you don’t know why.
Finally, get a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy is the best way to detect and prevent colorectal cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends colorectal cancer testing for everyone starting at age 45, though some people with certain risk factors may need to start at a younger age. Colon cancer can be hereditary. If you have a family history of colorectal cancer or have been diagnosed yourself, your doctor may recommend genetic counseling (available at OHC) and possible testing. It’s a safe, simple way to discover if you or your family is at risk for certain cancers.
Most people don’t look forward to a colonoscopy, but when you consider that it could save your life, it’s a simple step worth taking. It saved my patient’s life.
Sources: American Cancer Society, Healio.com, Thomas Jefferson University