Colorectal is among the top 10 cancers in Kenya. This type of cancer can either start at the colon or the rectum otherwise called the large intestine. According to recent Globocan data, there were 1,354 estimated new cases and 937 deaths from colorectal cancer in 2018 in Kenya.
Colorectal cancer sometimes begins as a polyp, a non-cancerous growth that may develop on the inner wall of the colon or rectum as people age. If not treated or removed, a polyp can become a potentially life-threatening cancer. Finding and removing pre-cancerous polyps can prevent colorectal cancer.
As with many cancers, age is a risk factor for colon cancer especially for those over 50 years. However, we have encountered cases in younger patients in their 30s and 40s and rarely in their 20s. Other risk factors include a family history of colorectal cancer, changes in the genes, smoking, excessive alcohol intake, poor nutrition, lack of physical activity and obesity. In other cases, no obvious risk factor is identified.
Common symptoms of colorectal cancer include a change in bowel habits with stool thinner than normal, constipation, bright red or very dark blood in the stool, diarrhea, constant fatigue, and discomfort in the abdomen with bloating and frequent gas pain. When the disease has spread to other organs, other symptoms include weight loss, bone pain, yellowness of eyes and urine amongst others. Anyone with these symptoms lasting for more than two weeks should seek medical assistance for evaluation.
Although there is no proven way to completely prevent this disease, one may be able to lower their risk. Observing a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in red meat, reducing alcohol intake and smoking cessation are important in reducing the risk of colon cancer. Screening from the age of 50 years u is also recommended.
Treatment depends on several factors, including the type and stage of cancer, possible side effects, and the patient’s preferences and overall health. Treatment can be in form of surgery to remove the tumour and some surrounding healthy tissue, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy which involves the use of materials made either by the body or in a laboratory to boost the body's natural defences to fight the cancer.