Submitted By Dr. Darley Solomon*

What is cancer?

The body is made up of trillions of living cells. Normal body cells grow, divide, and die in an orderly way. During the early years of a person’s life, normal cells divide faster to allow the person to grow. After the person becomes an adult, most cells divide only to replace worn-out, damaged, or dying cells.

Cancer begins when cells in a part of the body start to grow out of control. There are many kinds of cancer, but they all start because of this out-of-control growth of abnormal cells.

Cancer cell growth is different from normal cell growth. Instead of dying, cancer cells keep on growing and form new cancer cells. Unlike normal cells, these cancer cells can grow into other tissues.

In most cases the cancer cells form a tumor. But some cancers, like leukemia, rarely form tumors. Instead, these cancer cells are in the blood and bone marrow.

When cancer cells get into the bloodstream or lymph vessels, they can travel to other parts of the body. There they begin to grow and form new tumors that replace normal tissue. This process is called metastasis (muh-tas-tuh-sis).

No matter where a cancer may spread, it is always named for the place where it started. For instance, breast cancer that has spread to the liver is still called breast cancer, not liver cancer.

Different types of cancer can behave very differently. For example, lung cancer and breast cancer are very different diseases. They grow at different rates and respond to different treatments. That is why people with cancer need treatment that is aimed at their specific kind of cancer.

Not all tumors are cancerous. Tumors that aren’t cancer are called benign (be-nine). Benign tumors can cause problems– they can grow very large and press on healthy organs and tissues. But they cannot grow into other tissues. These tumors are rarely life threatening.

Colorectal cancer is cancer that starts in either the colon or the rectum.

The normal digestive system

Colon and rectal cancers begin in the digestive system, also called the gastrointestinal (GI) system (see picture).  The digestive system processes food for energy, and the last part of it (the colon and rectum) absorbs fluid to form solid waste (stool) that then passes from the body. In order to understand colorectal cancer, it helps to know something about the structure of the digestive system and how it works.

After food is chewed and swallowed, it travels to the stomach. There it is partly broken down, liquified and sent to the small intestine. The small intestine also breaks down the food and absorbs nutrients.

The liquid is then passed on to the large intestine (also called the colon). The colon absorbs water and nutrients from the liquid and also serves as a storage place for waste matter. The waste moves from the colon into the rectum, the last 6 inches of the digestive system. From there the waste passes out of the body through the opening called the anus.

The wall of the colon and rectum is made up of layers of tissues. Colorectal cancer starts in the inner layer and can grow through some or all of the other layers. The stage (extent of spread) of a cancer depends to a great degree on how deep the cancer goes into these layers.

Abnormal growths in the colon or rectum

Cancer that starts in these different areas may cause different symptoms. Colon cancer and rectal cancer have many things in common. Most colorectal cancers develop slowly over many years. We now know that most of these cancers start as a polyp — a growth of tissue that starts in the lining and grows into the center of the colon or rectum. A type of polyp, known as an adenoma, can become cancer. Removing a polyp early may keep it from becoming cancer. Over 95% of colon and rectal cancers begin this way are adenocarcinomas, starting as polyps in the lining of the colon and rectum.

“CTMH is pleased to act as a complete. We can do the screenings to detect cancer, biopsies to diagnose cancer and in the event that cancer is found, we are able to assist with the treatment as well,” Dr. Solomon said. “It has been great to offer this service to patients locally so that they can be with their families during their treatment.”

*Information from the American Cancer Society

Featured Staff

  • Dr. Darley Solomon MD MBA Dr. Darley Solomon is an attending General Surgeon who has been practising at Doctors Hospital since 2011. Dr. Solomon earned his Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and Doctor of Medicine degrees at Howard University in Washington, DC. He then completed an internship in Internal Medicine at Jacobi Medical Center in […]

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    Dr. Darley Solomon

    General Surgeon