​Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is a cancer of the large intestine, affecting either the colon or rectum, or both. The large intestine is part of the digestive system. Food is digested in the stomach and then moves from the small intestine into the colon where water and nutrients from the food are absorbed. The colon also stores waste material (stool) which is then expelled from the body passing through the rectum.

There is no known cause of what causes colorectal cancer. However, as with some of the other cancers, it is a result of the breakdown in the normal production of cells in the affected region. This breakdown results in cells continuing to divide and produce new cells even when they are not needed. These cancerous cells then start to push out the normal healthy cells and make the whole region cancerous as well.

Risk factors typically associated with colorectal cancer are:

  • Aging more than 50 years of age

  • Family or personal history of colorectal cancer

  • Inherited genes that increase the likelihood of colorectal cancer

  • History of intestinal diseases

  • Diabetes

  • Obesity

  • Diet high in processed meat or red meat

  • High consumption of cigarette or alcohol

  • An inactive lifestyle

Common symptoms for colorectal cancer are:

  • A change in your bowel routine such as diarrhoea, constipation or nature of your stool

  • Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool

  • Feeling that your bowel has not discharged fully

  • Persistent stomach pain or gas

  • Weakness or fatigue

  • Loss of weight without trying

  • Loss of appetite or vomiting ​

If you consistently experience any of the above symptoms, especially blood in the stool or disrupted bowel habits, then consult your family doctor or a specialist working with the Oncology Service Line at The Aga Khan University Hospital. 
Your time with your doctor maybe limited, so make sure to prepare for your visit beforehand. Here are some tips to help get you started. 

To check for colorectal cancer the following tests may be performed:

  • Stool tests – this can help to detect any invisible blood in your stool, which is an early indicator of colorectal cancer.

  • Colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy –  this is a process through which the doctor is able to view the whole or part of the intestine to check for changes

  • Imaging tests – these may be used to take pictures of the inside of your body to help indicate which areas are affects by cancer, discover how extensive the cancer is, help to decide which from of treatment to use and to see if treatment is working. Options include a Computerized Tomography (CT or CAT) scan, ultrasound, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan, chest X-rays, Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan or an angiogram.​

  • Complete Blood count (CBC): One or more parameters related to red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets might be affected in this condition, giving a clue towards etiology and further diagnostic approach. Therefore, it is an ancillary test in the diagnostic workup of this disease.

Disclaimer: Kindly consult your physician before getting the above-mentioned tests.​

Based on the extent of the cancer as well as your age, overall health and suitability, you may be treated for colorectal cancer in the following ways:

  • Colon surgery -  where the cancer cells and nearby tissues are removed in an operation

  • Chemotherapy – this involves administering drugs with aim to destroy cancerous cells. This form of treatment is usually used following surgery if the cancer has spread to your lymph nodes. Thus, this treatment may help to reduce the chances of cancer reoccurring.

  • Radiation therapy – this form of treatment used powerful energy sources, such as X-rays, in order to shrink large tumours prior to surgery, to eliminate cancer cells that may still remain following surgery, or in order to reduce the symptoms of colorectal cancer.

  • Targeted therapy – these are drugs that target specific defects in your cancerous cells. This form of treatment is usually selected in patients with advanced stages of colon cancer. ​

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers various support services to help with managing or recovering from the disease or condition. These include but are not limited to nutrition, physiotherapy, rehabilitation, specialized clinics and some patient support groups. Your doctor or nurse will advise you accordingly.
The Aga Khan University Hospital offers financial assistance to those who are in need and fulfil the eligibility criteria. For further information, you can contact the Patient Welfare Department. You can find the contact number of the Patient Welfare Department in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.
The financial counselling staff is available during office hours, at the main PBSD (Patient Business Services Department), to answer your financial queries on treatments’ costs and authorize admissions on partial deposit as per hospital policies allow. The financial counsellor in the emergency room is open 24/7. You can find the contact number of the Patient Business Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage. 
Your doctor and or nurse will give you specific instructions about the prescribed medication. Please ensure that you take or use the prescribed medicine as advised. It can be dangerous to your health if you self-prescribe. Please inform the doctor or nurse beforehand if you have experienced any adverse reactions to any medications in the past. If you experience any symptoms of drug poisoning, overdose or severe reaction please contact the Pharmacy Service at The Aga Khan University Hospital immediately. You can find the contact number of the Pharmacy Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage. 

The information provided on our website is for educational purposes and not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or other healthcare professional provider.