IT’S estimated that more than 17,500 Australians will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer this year.
That will make it leapfrog ahead of breast cancer to become the second-most common, and lethal, form of cancer in the country.
But while the disease continues its march up cancer’s grim ranks, there is some good news; in the last 30 years survival rates have improved by about 20 per cent, and people who are diagnosed with colorectal cancer now have a 68 per cent chance of still kicking around five years later.
One of the treatments that has helped contribute to this improvement is radiation therapy.
Dr Jerry Freund from Genesis Cancer Care WA says while radiation therapy is unlikely to cure the cancer by itself, it’s a useful adjunct therapy alongside surgery, chemotherapy or a mix of both.
“Radiation therapy can make the tumour smaller, which can help the surgeon to get it out, and it can kill cancer cells outside the immediate area of surgery, so if it has gone through the bowel wall or is in an area that’s hard for the surgeon to access, radiation therapy can be helpful,” Dr Freund said.
One of the therapy’s most important functions is helping prevent colorectal cancer from returning to the same area, he says.
“If it comes back it is painful and hard to get rid of.”
At Genesis, treatment is for five weeks, with patients receiving about 15 minutes of high-energy radiation each working day.
Dr Freund says there’s no needles and the treatment is painless, so most people can go about their daily routine.
There can be some mild side-effects, such as tiredness, diarrhoea or a little nausea.
But it’s not for all types of bowel cancers and Dr Freund says patients should always talk to their own doctors about their condition.
He says it’s also important that people, particularly males, take advantage of the free screening kits that are mailed out by the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program once people turn 50, as older people are more likely to suffer from bowel cancer.
Studies have shown that there is a 30 per cent improved survival rate for people who regularly screen.