There were 136,830 new cases of colorectal cancer diagnosed in 2014, representing 8.2 percent of all new cancer cases, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Colorectal cancer is a cancer that grows within the large intestine; if the cancer is in the last section of the colon, the rectum, it is referred to as rectal cancer, and a cancer that grows elsewhere in the large intestine is referred to as colon cancer. Colorectal cancer has a high survival rate if diagnosed early, but if left untreated, the cancer can grow through the intestinal wall and spread to internal organs like the heart and lungs.
Colon cancer can be diagnosed with a variety of tests, including:
- Fecal occult blood test
- Virtual colonoscopy
- Barium X-ray of the colon
One of these tests—or a combination thereof—can give a doctor a look at the colon itself or test for other key markers of colon cancer. However, the earliest (and most curable stages) of colorectal cancer often show no symptoms at all, making it difficult for doctors and patients alike to identify it as colon cancer. That being said, it is critically important to receive regular medical checkups to increase the likelihood of an early diagnosis of colon cancer or any other life-threatening disease.
In cases where symptoms are present, it is crucial for a doctor to correctly attribute the symptoms to colorectal cancer. Certain conditions can mimic the symptoms of colorectal cancer, including colon polyps, stomach cancer, bowel disorders, stomach disorders, rectal disorders, hemorrhoids, adenomatous polyps, intestinal ischaemia, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulitis, iron deficiency, Celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, uremia, peritonitis, and Kaposi sarcoma.
Diagnosing colon and rectal cancers early—and accurately—is key. These cancers are highly treatable and beatable in the early stages, but treatment becomes much riskier as the disease progresses.
Almost 90 percent (89.8%) of colon cancer patients survive five years or more when the cancer is diagnosed at the localized stage. In this stage, the cancer has not yet spread beyond the primary site.
Once the cancer has spread to the regional lymph nodes, the five-year survival rate drops to 70 percent. Once the cancer has metastasized, the five-year survival rate is only 12.9 percent. As such, it is crucial to diagnose colon cancer early and accurately to give the patient the best chance of overcoming it.
Plus, misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis can disqualify the patient from certain treatments. If caught early, colorectal cancer can sometimes be treated with a less-invasive procedure called laparoscopic surgery. More advanced stages of the disease require a more invasive open abdominal procedure, which carries more risks.
A misdiagnosis can take precious months or years away from a colorectal cancer patient. Early identification and intervention is crucial, and a doctor’s failure to diagnose colorectal cancer can seriously delay chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery. This delay in treatment can allow the cancer to progress, further decreasing the patient’s chances of making a full recovery.