Colorectal cancer is cancer of the colon and rectum. It can be caught early with screening, which has increased survival rates. Everyone should be screened starting at age 50, but if you have a family history of colon cancer, or if you have specific disease conditions, you should start at least 10 years earlier. All colon cancer starts as polyps, which is why it’s important to get screened in order to catch the cancer early. Colorectal cancer screening is separate from a colonoscopy and can be done by your primary care provider.
All colorectal cancers are not created equally. On a stage to stage basis, rectal cancer is more aggressive. Cancer specialists now look at the right and left side of the colon as different entities. Prognosis and treatments can differ for colorectal cancer depending on if the cancer originates on the right or left side. Cancer on the right side of the colon tends to be more difficult to treat.
Intravenous, oral and targeted therapy forms of chemotherapy treatments remain the primary treatment for colorectal cancer. Once it’s determined which side of the colon the cancer is affecting, further treatments are tailored specifically to the patient. Doctors can now identify particular genetic mutations in each patient’s cancer and custom design treatment for the patient, which has led to more desirable outcomes. Survival is improving because doctors now have a better understanding of the genetic makeup of each patient’s cancer.
Peter Ennever, MD, is an oncology and hematology specialist at Cone Health Cancer Center at MedCenter High Point and a member of Cone Health Medical Group. Ennever earned his doctorate of medicine at George Washington University. He completed his residency at University of Pittsburgh Health Science Center and completed a fellowship in hematology and medical oncology at Yale-New Haven Hospital. He is a member of several organizations, including the American College of Physicians, American Society of Clinical Oncology, American Society of Hematology and North Carolina Medical Society.