DANVILLE - More than a million people in the U.S. alone suffer from some form of colorectal disease, which can present as many different ailments and conditions, the most common being colon cancer, ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease.
Of these diseases, deaths from colorectal cancer rank the highest. According to the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons, about 140,000 people will be diagnosed and 60,000 will die from colorectal cancer annually. More than 90 percent of these patients are 40 years of age and older.
"In some cases, surgery, which has become increasingly more minimally invasive in approach, is required for a complete cure," said Dr. Michael Komar, director of gastroenterology at Geisinger Health System. "But if it is detected and treated in its early stages, most patients can be restored to normal health."
Ulcerative colitis, which is an inflammatory disease of the large intestine, affects people mostly under the age of 30, but sometimes also later in life. No medical cure other than surgery exists for ulcerative colitis, but medication can be prescribed to relieve symptoms.
"It is important to seek follow-up care for ulcerative colitis because there is an increased risk of developing colon cancer after eight to 10 years," Komar said.
Another colorectal disease that affects young- to middle-aged people is Crohn's disease. This chronic inflammatory condition, which affects the intestinal tract, is predominantly diagnosed in adults aged 16 to 40. Anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive medications are usually prescribed for treatment. However, for a number of Crohn's patients, surgery is eventually required.
"Symptoms of colorectal diseases can closely resemble one another," Komar said. "For this reason, it is important to consult with your primary care physician if you are concerned with any noticeable changes in your bowel habits. Your physician may refer you to a specialist for testing and treatment of the symptoms you are experiencing."
Symptoms that should send you to your doctor include rectal bleeding, anemia, diarrhea, constipation or abdominal pain or cramping. Consult with a doctor if these symptoms are accompanied by a family history of colorectal disease since you are at a higher risk of suffering from a form of colorectal disease.
"The key in treating colorectal disease is early, aggressive treatment," Komar said. "Proper examination by a specialist and various screenings, such as a colonoscopy, can diagnose most forms of colorectal disease."