Colorectal cancer is treatable if detected early, and various treatment options are available, including robotic surgery. A Mediclinic expert explains further.

Colorectal cancer: the importance of early detection

Colorectal cancer refers to cancer that develops in the colon or rectum, and it usually affects people aged 50 and above. Fortunately, the condition is largely preventable if detected early, and a number of treatment options are available, including robotic surgery.

Regular screening is the best way to catch colorectal cancer in its early stages, when it is most treatable. Most cases begin as small, non-cancerous (benign) clumps of cells called adenomatous polyps and over time some of these can develop into colon cancer.

Polyps don’t necessarily produce symptoms and it’s important to detect them early on through regular screening. The removal of polyps before they become cancerous is crucial.

Your healthcare provider will ascertain your risk and recommend when you should start screening.

There are several types of screening tests for colorectal cancer:

  • Colonoscopy – Uses a long, flexible tube with a camera on the end to examine the inside of the colon and rectum. If any polyps are found, they can be removed during the procedure.
  • Faecal immunochemical test (FIT) – Checks for blood in the stool, which may be a sign of colorectal cancer.
  • CT colonography – Uses a CT scan to create images of the colon and rectum. If any polyps are found, a colonoscopy may be needed to remove them.

Colorectal cancer treatment: robotic surgery

Surgery is often the primary colorectal cancer treatment option, with the aim of removing the cancerous tissue from the colon or rectum. Da Vinci robotic-assisted surgery is a minimally invasive surgical technique that uses robotic arms and a small camera to perform surgical procedures.

Dr Frikkie Rademan, a general surgeon at Mediclinic Durbanville, was one of the first qualified robotic colorectal surgeon in South Africa. He says Da Vinci robotic surgery offers several benefits over traditional open surgery, including smaller incisions, reduced blood loss, and quicker recovery time. The procedure is also less painful, which means patients require less pain medication during and after surgery. In addition, robotic surgery reduces the risk of infection and other complications associated with open surgery, leading to better outcomes for patients.

During Da Vinci robotic surgery, the surgeon controls the robotic arms from a console located in the operating room. The robotic arms are equipped with surgical instruments and a high-definition camera, which provide a magnified view of the surgical site.

Dr Rademan explains that as the pelvis is the size of a cup, space is critical for surgeons. “The Da Vinci robot gives us the advantage of working in a confined space with instruments that angulate like a surgeon’s wrists,” he says. Accelerated recovery times and enhanced quality of life due to the nerve-sparing precision of the Da Vinci robot are significant factors in the success of these surgeries. This includes a quicker return of bladder and sexual function, allowing patients to return to their normal lives.

Risk factors and symptoms of colorectal cancer

Certain factors can increase your risk of developing colorectal cancer:

  • Age. Being over age 50.
  • Family history. Having a close relative (parent, sibling, or child) who has had colorectal cancer.
  • Personal history. Having had polyps (abnormal growths in the colon or rectum).
  • Diet. Having a diet high in red and processed meats, and low in fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Lifestyle factors. Lack of physical activity, obesity, smoking, and heavy alcohol use.

In the early stages, colorectal cancer often does not cause any symptoms. This is why screening is so important. As the cancer grows, it may cause symptoms such as:

  • Changes in bowel habits (diarrhoea or constipation)
  • Blood in the stool
  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Unintended weight loss

Prevention of colorectal cancer

n addition to regular screening, there are things you can do to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer. These include:

  • Eating a healthy diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and low in red and processed meats.
  • Exercising regularly.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Not smoking.
  • Limiting alcohol use.

Colorectal cancer is a common and serious disease, but it is largely preventable and treatable if detected early. Regular screening is the best way to catch colorectal cancer in its early stages, when it is most treatable. Talk to your healthcare provider about your risk and when you should start screening.

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