Colorectal cancer, which also refers to bowel cancer, colon cancer or rectal cancer, is a type of cancer that affects a patient’s colon and rectum. In Australia, it is one of the most common types of cancer diagnosed in individuals, primarily affecting those over the age of 50.

It is considered to be a preventable and treatable condition. Individuals need to be aware of what causes this disease and how it can be treated. This knowledge may be useful in increasing the survival rate for colorectal cancer.

This post examines the leading causes and treatments for this type of cancer. For further information and for bowel cancer screening, patients need to consult a trained gastroenterologist.

Causes of colorectal cancer

Colon cancer takes place when cell DNA in the colon begins to mutate. These cells become cancerous and continue to divide. They then accumulate and become a tumour, destroy tissue and travel to other parts of the body.

Risk factors for this condition include:

Age: While this condition can be detected in individuals of any age, a majority of patients are over the age of 50.

Race: Medical evidence shows that people who are descendants of communities from certain parts of the world are at greater risk of developing colorectal cancer. For example, African-Americans living in the US may be more vulnerable to the onset of this condition.

Family history: For anyone who has already been diagnosed with colon cancer or non-cancerous colon polyps, there’s a greater risk of developing this condition again.

Inflammatory intestinal conditions: Chronic inflammatory conditions within the colon including Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative colitis can increase the risk of colorectal cancer.

Inherited medical conditions: Certain gene mutations that are inherited can increase a patient’s risk of developing bowel cancer. Inherited conditions that are largely responsible for the onset of this disease include FAP and Lynch syndrome.

Family history of colon cancer: For patients with close relatives with this type of cancer, the risk of developing colorectal cancer is higher.

A diet low in fibre and high in fat: Certain studies have demonstrated that diets high in red meat and processed meat can lead to a higher risk of this condition.

A chronic lack of exercise: Patients who fail to exercise regularly may be more likely to suffer from colon cancer.

Unhealthy lifestyle practices: Excessive drinking and smoking can increase this risk within patients.

Certain health conditions: Individuals who suffer from diabetes and obesity may also be more likely to develop this condition at some point in their lives.

Radiation therapy: If a patient has undergone radiation therapy in the past, they may be at increased risk of colon cancer.

Treatment for colorectal cancer

Various factors determine the specific type of treatment recommended. Here the size, location, and stage of cancer, along with the current state of the patient’s health, helps in deciding the best course of action.


This is usually the first course of action for patients diagnosed with this condition. The malignant tumours and lymph nodes are removed, preventing cancer from spreading.

Following surgery, the bowel is sewn back together. In operations where the rectum is completely removed, a colostomy bag is attached for drainage and to collect stools. This may be a temporary or permanent measure, depending on whether it’s possible to connect the ends of the bowel.

If detected early enough, surgery may be able to completely eradicate colorectal cancer from a patient’s body.

Radiation therapy

This method of treatment utilises high-energy radiation beams to destroy cancer cells and prevent them from multiplying. It is a form of treatment specifically suited for rectal cancer treatment and is used to shrink a tumour, before surgery.

Similar to chemotherapy, radiation therapy may be administered after surgery to prevent regression.


Chemotherapy involves the use of a chemical or medicine to destroy cancer cells. It may be used before surgery to shrink the tumour.

Targeted therapy may also be used, a form of chemotherapy, which targets certain proteins that spur the development of some kinds of cancer.


Ablation destroys tumours through radiofrequency, ethanol or cryosurgery. These are delivered through a probe or needle, guided through the use of an ultrasound or a CT scan.

Colorectal cancer must be diagnosed and treated with care and precision for the best outcome

Colon cancer is considered a treatable condition with a high possibility of recovery, provided that it is diagnosed in time. Individuals who understand what causes this condition can take steps to prevent its onset by making healthy life choices.

For colorectal cancer screening and treatment, patients can consult Dr Suhirdan Vivekanandarajah; a trained interventional gastroenterologist and hepatologist.

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