Assuming that polyps are found during a colonoscopy, they can be
removed surgically or with the colonoscope. Whether or not actual
cancer is found in the colon, the removal of existing polyps is thought
to have a preventative function, reducing the risk that any polyps will
go on to turn into cancer.
Surgery is generally necessary to remove cancerous polyps or tumors.
The earlier cancers can be located, the less extensive the procedures
that have to be done in order to remove the cancerous tissues. In early
stage cancer, it may be sufficient to remove the inner layers of tissue
inside the colon. When tumors have penetrated through the colon wall it
can be necessary to remove entire diseased sections of the colon; a
process called segmental resection. To the extent that tumors have
metastasized, additional involved tissues (nearby lymph nodes, etc.)
may need to be removed as well.
When possible, the surgeon will reconnect the healthy colon portions
back together so that normal bowel function can be resumed. In some
cases this is not possible, however, as in the case where rectum
tissues are cancerous. In such cases, the surgeon may have to create a
special opening in your abdomen (called a colostomy) which then serves
as the new point of elimination of body wastes (stool). Colostomy is
sometimes performed on a temporary basis, but it can also become a
permanent feature of your battle with cancer.
Common side-effects of colorectal surgery include short-term pain and
tenderness as well as diarrhea and constipation. After surgery most
patients will need to remain in the hospital for five to seven days
with their food intake restricted for the first few days. Most patients
fully recover within two months.
In addition to surgery that removes localized cancerous
tissues, radiation and chemotherapies may be prescribed as additional
treatment to target cancers that may have spread into the body, or for
cancer that is inoperable.
Radiation therapy consists of using high energy beams (such as
x-rays or gamma radiation) to kill any cancer cells that the surgery
may have missed. Radiation is commonly administered externally by
aiming highly focused beams at the infected region. Radiation therapy
can also be administered by placing radioactive material directly into
the body near where inoperable tumors are found. Side effects of
radiation therapy, which can include fatigue, bleeding, diarrhea, and
loss of appetite, commonly disappear soon after treatment has ended.
Chemotherapy involves the use of powerful anticancer drugs
injected directly into the bloodstream or taken by mouth. These drugs
are designed to destroy cells that divide rapidly as cancer cells do.
Unfortunately cancer cells are not the only cells in the body that
divide rapidly. Common side effects of chemotherapy include fatigue,
hair loss, nausea, diarrhea, and increased prevalence of infection.
However, as is the case with radiation therapy, these side effects tend
to go away soon after treatment ends.