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Colorectal Surgery FAQs: A Comprehensive Guide for Patients

Colorectal surgery is a specialized field of medicine that deals with the diagnosis and treatment of disorders affecting the colon and rectum. These conditions can range from benign polyps to life-threatening cancers. While colorectal surgery can be a daunting prospect, it is often the most effective treatment for these conditions.

In this article, we will address some of the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) about colorectal surgery, with a particular focus on concerns relevant to patients in South Africa. We will cover general questions about colorectal conditions, robotic surgery, and specific colorectal conditions like colon cancer, diverticulitis, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

What are the symptoms of colorectal conditions?

Symptoms of colorectal conditions can vary depending on the specific condition and its severity. However, some common symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain or cramping

  • Blood in stool

  • Change in Bowel Habits

  • Unexplained weight loss

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to see a doctor to get a diagnosis. Early detection and treatment of colorectal conditions can improve outcomes and reduce the risk of complications.

What are the risk factors for colorectal conditions?

Certain factors can increase your risk of developing colorectal conditions, such as:

  • Age: The risk of colon cancer increases significantly after age 50.

  • Family history: Having a family history of colorectal cancer or polyps increases your risk of developing these conditions.

  • Personal history: Having a history of certain medical conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease or Crohn's disease, increases your risk of colorectal conditions.

  • Lifestyle factors: Smoking, heavy alcohol consumption, and a diet low in fruits and vegetables and high in red and processed meats can increase your risk of colorectal conditions.

How are colorectal conditions diagnosed?

In addition to a detailed history and examination, there are several tests that can be used to diagnose colorectal conditions:

  • Colonoscopy

    This is a procedure in which a doctor uses a thin, flexible tube with a light and camera to examine the inside of the colon and rectum. Any abnormality found can potentially be resected right there and then, or biopsied for identification.

  • Sigmoidoscopy

    This is a similar procedure to a colonoscopy, but it only examines the lower part of the colon and rectum. While simpler to perform, it runs the risk of missing abnormalities in the colon further up.

  • Stool Tests

    These tests can detect blood or other abnormalities in the stool that may be a sign of colorectal cancer. They can also be used to diagnose infections, and monitor the inflammation levels in the bowel.

  • Endoanal Ultrasound

    Endoanal ultrasonography is currently the gold standard for evaluation of anal spincter muscles. It is a simple, well-tolerated imaging technique. Most studies revealed the presence of sphincter defect. It is extremely accurate in imaging the anatomy, and cost effective when compared to an MRI.

What are the treatment options for colorectal conditions?

Treatment for colorectal conditions depends on the specific condition and its severity. Generally to most important factor for patients would be to choose an experienced colorectal surgeon to help plan their treatment. Options include:

  • Surgery

    Surgery is the most common treatment for colorectal cancer. It is also used to treat other colorectal conditions, such as polyps and diverticulosis.

  • Radiation therapy

    Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams to kill cancer cells. It is generally an adjunct to surgery to attempt to shrink the tumour and save more of the surrounding structures or the anal sphincters. It is generally used in preparation for surgery, but in some cancers (like anal cancer) it may result in complete remission without any need for surgery.

  • Chemotherapy

    Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. It is often used in combination with surgery or radiation therapy. Chemotheraoy can be used prior to surgery in the same way as radiotherapy to shrink the tumour. It also potentially treats microsopic cells that have already spread from the primary tumour.

    The decision to use chemotherapy is extremely nuanced. The most important aspect in ensuring the best outcomes would be a decision guided by an experienced multidisciplinary team that includes the treating surgeon and oncologist from the start.

  • Endoscopic Resection

    It is possible to painlessly resect lesions and polyps in the colon during a colonoscopy while they are still small. This means with a well timed colonoscopy, the patient may avoid the need for any further invasive surgery.

What can I expect after colorectal surgery?

The recovery time for colorectal surgery varies depending on the type of surgery and the patient's overall health.

A colonoscopy has a recovery time measured in minutes. An extensive colonic resection will require take longer to return to normal functional levels.

The biggest determinants of recovery time would be the extent of tissue resection, any preceeding radiotherapy and the patient's baseline level of fitness.

How can I prevent colorectal conditions?

There are several things you can do to reduce your risk of developing colorectal conditions, including:

Do you still have questions?

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    +27 21 201 6582

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    Room 4,
    Durbanville Medisuite,
    9 Paul Kruger St, Durbanville,
    Cape Town 7550

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    Wellington Road, Durbanville,
    Cape Town 7550