Colorectal cancer, despite being the second most common type of cancer in men and women (apart from non-melanoma skin cancer), is also one of the most preventable. That’s because he doesn’t suddenly appear. This type of cancer originates from polyps (abnormal cell growth) located in the large intestine in the colon, rectum and anus regions. They usually don’t cause symptoms and can take between 10 and 15 years to develop into cancer. But if detected during a colonoscopy (a test that captures real-time images of the intestine) they can be removed before cancer occurs.
However, only 40% of colorectal cancer cases are detected at an early stage. The vast majority are detected in advanced stages, when symptoms are more evident and existing treatments less effective.
But if there are ways to diagnose it early, why is it still happening? According to the doctor. Carolina Melo, a researcher at the NEP’s Translational Research Laboratory, one of the main reasons is that there is still a lot of prejudice against colonoscopy, as it is an invasive technique, which requires a preparation (cleaning) of the colon considered unpleasant because it includes the use of laxatives and large water intake.
Routine colonoscopy should be performed in the population, in general, from 50 years of age, with regular intervals that can go from 3 to 5 years, according to medical advice.
“If everyone was aware of the suffering that can be avoided with the early diagnosis of colorectal cancer, there might not be room for this type of prejudice. There are other ways to screen for signs of colorectal cancer, but colonoscopy is the only one that can prevent it from starting by removing the polyps”; emphasizes Dr. Carolina.
Some people have a higher risk of getting this disease. About 3% of cases (1 in 30) of colorectal cancer are caused by an inherited syndrome called Lynch Syndrome. In this syndrome, mutations in genes that help repair DNA damage can increase by up to 50% a person’s risk of developing colorectal cancer, usually relatively young. Therefore, knowing the family history is very important in these cases.
In addition, for those who have problems with intestinal inflammation, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, or have a first-degree relative who has already had some type of bowel cancer, this test should start from 40 years of age onwards. .
The good news is that researchers are working on the search for biomarkers, such as specific cells, molecules or genes, that allow the early diagnosis of cancer in a less invasive and more assertive way. Another advance in colorectal cancer treatment is the recent publication of promising results from the application of a protective vaccine against hereditary colorectal cancer in mice.
Want to learn more about scientific advances in the diagnosis and treatment of colorectal cancer? In the next edition, Dr. Carolina continues talking about this topic on our social networks and on Infoco.
- Text written by Dr. Carolina Melo, PhD in human genetics. She has worked for over 10 years in oncology research and is currently part of the NEP research team.