In conversation with Dr. Ajesh Raj Saksena, a Surgical Oncologist and Robotic Cancer Surgeon at Apollo Cancer Institute, Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad.
As a cancer specialist, with expertise in gastrointestinal cancers, Dr. Ajesh Raj Saksena takes the initiative to inform people about its various risk factors, explain the “warning” symptoms, and persuade them to get screened.
The term "cancer" can add gravity and seriousness to any conversation. It has always been considered one of the most catastrophic and feared illnesses globally. However, several cancer cases can be averted by understanding the risk factors and diagnosing the issue at the right time. Colorectal cancer (CRC) is one such cancer that has been growing in incidence worldwide. Being alert about its symptoms can help identify them early and treat them timely.
Discussing the implications of colorectal cancer, Dr. Saksena shares that these cancers start in the large intestine and grow along the colon or rectum's inner lining. As they grow, they begin to spread via lymphatics and gain access to the bloodstream, potentially spreading to various organs in the body. Many of these cancers start as small precancerous polyps before turning into cancers. "With timely screening, these polyps can be detected early, removed at this precancerous stage endoscopically at the same time, thereby preventing the risk of full-blown cancer," says Dr. Saksena.
Increasing age is one of the most critical risk factors for colorectal cancer, with the risk increasing significantly for people over 50 years of age. The noted Cancer Specialist adds, “Of late, we see a rise in cancers developing in younger people. More and more people younger than 40 are developing CRC, with many being in the advanced stage. While we do not know what exactly is contributing to this, diet, lifestyle changes, and environment could be the most likely triggers for more and more young people developing cancers.”
Another notable risk factor is having a family member who has struggled with CRC, a family history of colonic polyposis, or inherited syndrome (Familial Adenomatous Polyposis, Lynch syndrome). Heavy alcohol consumption, smoking, a diet low in fiber content, and a higher intake of red meat can all contribute to the cancer. Even people with inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative colitis) must be mindful of an increased risk of developing CRCs.
Some of the common presenting complaints of these cancers received by Dr. Ajesh include:
• Blood in stool
• Recent changes in your bowel habits
• Feeling of incomplete evacuation after a bowel movement
• Pain while passing stool
• Bloated stomach
• Unexplained weight loss
• Getting tired too soon (fatigue) and shortness of breath
“People must be aware of these early warning signs and symptoms. Subtle changes in your body must be paid attention to. Seek medical help without delay if you encounter any of these issues,” adds Dr. Ajesh.
Although various screening tests are available, colonoscopy is an office procedure that takes a few minutes. Dr. Ajesh says, “Guidelines worldwide now recommend a colonoscopy for patients over the age of 45, done once in 5-10 years. Patients with a family history of GI cancers would require to initiate screening at earlier ages.”
March being Colorectal cancer awareness month, Dr. Ajesh emphasizes prevention is better than cure. He persuades people to watch what they eat, reduce meat intake, exercise regularly, and lead a healthy lifestyle to prevent these cancers.
Known for his laparoscopic and robotic (minimal access) surgical procedures, Dr. Ajesh believes as a surgeon in this modern world, it is essential to stay in sync with modern technologies and find an ideal balance between technology and medical science. He has gained substantial experience in successfully treating gastrointestinal cancers using advanced technologies and state-of-the-art equipment.
Dr. Ajesh Saksena discusses how modern medical science has worked wonders for healthcare professionals and patients. He says, "We should be grateful to be living in the age of digitization. These advancements in medical science have made laparoscopic and robotic surgical procedures possible, ensuring minimally invasive and completely safe treatments for diseases as critical as cancer. Patients can return to work earlier and have significantly less pain after these keyhole cancer surgeries. We are also witnessing advancements like fluorescence guidance in surgical oncology that uses artificial intelligence to provide intraoperative help to surgeons. It is now safe to say that when modern technology meets the noble intentions of medical science, miracles happen!"