How to prevent the silent killer, bowel cancer

As of 2023, bowel cancer continues to be a silent killer, affecting 5.1 per 100,000 women and 7.2 per 100,000 men in India. Bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is a type of cancer that affects the colon or rectum, which are both part of the large intestine. The condition causes over 9,16,000 deaths globally, each year. Often beginning as a small non-cancerous growth (polyp) on the inner lining of the colon or rectum, bowel cancer occurs over time, as the polyp become cancerous, growing into malignant tumors that can spread to other parts of the body. If screened and diagnosed in time, bowel cancer can easily be treated through modalities like robotic-assisted surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy, depending on the stage the cancer is at.

Symptoms and Risk Factors
A worrisome trait of bowel cancer is that its symptoms are not very visible till a stage where cancer has already spread to other areas of the body. However, a few noticeable symptoms including change in bowel habits such as diarrhea or constipation, blood in the stool, abdominal pain or cramping, unexplained weight loss, and fatigue can be an indicator to this disease. These are several risk factors associated with developing bowel cancer, including age (over 50 years old), family history of bowel cancer or polyps, personal history of inflammatory bowel disease (such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease), and a diet high in red and processed meats.

However, it is important to note that some people with bowel cancer may not experience any symptoms at all, making regular screening even more critical.

Screening is essential
One of the most effective ways to prevent bowel cancer is through regular screening. Screening tests can help detect precancerous polyps or early stage bowel cancer when treatment is most likely to be successful. The most common screening method for bowel cancer is a colonoscopy, which involves a flexible tube with a camera being inserted into the rectum to examine the colon and rectum for abnormalities. Other screening options include fecal occult blood tests and stool DNA tests. Patients above the age of 45 are recommended to undergo regular screening for bowel cancer, however, those with a higher risk (such as those with a family history of bowel cancer) may need to start screening at an earlier age or have more frequent screenings.

Treatment options for bowel cancer depend on the stage of the cancer at diagnosis which emphasizes the need for screening.

Treatment modalities for Bowel Cancer: Robotic-assisted surgery
Early-stage bowel cancer may be treated with surgery alone, while advanced stages may require additional treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Due to its multitude of benefits, in recent years, robotic-assisted surgery has emerged as an innovative option for treating bowel cancer. Robotic-assisted surgery with advanced surgical systems like da Vinci are extremely helpful with early-stage cancers when the cancer is confined to a region as they help remove cancerous tissues while preserving as much of the healthy tissue as possible. Robotic-assisted surgery can help to achieve this goal by allowing surgeons to make smaller incisions and perform more precise maneuvers, which can reduce the risk of damage to surrounding tissue and organs.

If the cancer spreads to the lymph nodes, robotic-assisted surgery is combined with additional treatments like chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Radiation therapy helps shrink the tumour and the surgery helps remove tissues that lie in the vicinity of the tumour. The 3D vision and sense of immersion with the da Vinci system aided by the magnified vision of the surgical site, and the dexterity of the robotic instruments surgery becomes much easier.

Technology has solved the problem of accessibility and accuracy of the surgical site, with innovations like robotic-assisted surgery.

Though bowel cancer is the third-most common cancer worldwide, it is curable if it is diagnosed early. However, the essential step to lower the burden of bowel cancer is by enhancing the awareness about the problem and the need for regular screening. Screening can help diagnose the disease at an early stage when it is mostly curable and treatment can enable patients to lead a normal life.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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