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Colon Cancer Condensed

A quick run-through of everything you need to know

mature woman having stomach acheColon cancer is the most common cancer in Singapore. Dr Foo Kian Fong, the Senior Consultant Medical Oncologist at Parkway Cancer Centre, explains about colon cancer, tells us what we can do to avoid it, and what we have to do to catch it early.

What is colorectal cancer and how seriously should we take it?

Colorectal cancer is cancer that occurs in the colon or rectum. What happens is that normal cells in the lining of the colon or rectum begin to change and grow without control. The reason for this abnormal growth is an interaction of genetic abnormality and environmental factors. Typically, it starts out as a non-cancerous polyp that becomes a cancerous tumour over time.

In Singapore, colon cancer is the second most common cause of death among men and the third most common among women, so it is pretty serious.

Who is most vulnerable to getting colon cancer?

It is mostly diagnosed in people who are over the age of 50, though it can occur at any age. In Singapore, it is more common among the Chinese than with the other racial groups. It is also more common in men than in women.

cancer cellWhat are the symptoms of colon cancer?

  1. Rectal Bleeding

One common symptom is rectal bleeding. Blood appears with the stools and can be accompanied by constipation. However, bleeding due to a tumour inside the colon or rectum can be confused with bleeding from haemorrhoids. It is hard to tell the difference.

  1. Change in Bowel Habits

Another symptom is a change in bowel habits – either constipation or more frequent bowel movements, or alternating diarrhoea with constipation.

  1. Anaemia

Another sign is unexplained anaemia. The person looks pale, feels easily fatigued, and is unusually breathless after moderate exertion. He complains of tiredness and may experience unexplained weight loss.

How can screening make a difference?

Colorectal cancer displays no symptoms in the early stages, so we can only detect it by screening. Since colorectal cancer develops from polyps, we surgically remove polyps we find to prevent colorectal cancer.

With colorectal cancer, the five-year survival rate for people with Stage I cancer is between 85% and 95%. At Stage IV, on the other hand, the survival rate is less than 5%. If you catch it early, your chances of survival are very good.

Doctor's hands holding clipboard with blank sheet of paperHow is the screening done?

The most basic screening is the faecal occult blood test (FOBT). This is a simple test to check if there is occult blood in your stools. FOBT tests for blood in the stool and is a simple and non-invasive test. If you are above 50, you should have an annual FOBT. You can schedule an FOBT easily with your family physician or neighbourhood polyclinic.

In addition, you should do a colonoscopy every 10 years. A colonoscopy is a specialist procedure done in hospitals, using a flexible fibre optic tube called a colonoscope to look at the internal lining of the colon and rectum. It also allows for interventions such as a polypectomy (removal of a polyp) or biopsies to be done at the same time.

This sounds painful! Is it?

The colonoscopy usually takes about 15 minutes and most people won’t suffer because it is done under light sedation. The most uncomfortable part is probably what happens the night before. Before a colonoscopy, the bowels have to be ‘cleaned’ or emptied. As a result, on the evening before the colonoscopy, the patient has to drink two litres of water laced with medication to induce diarrhoea.

iStock_000001315352_MediumIs a colonoscopy a risky procedure?

It has a less than 0.5% risk of damage or perforation to the wall of the colon, so it is very safe.

What can we do to lower our risk of getting colon cancer?

Say NO to Drinking and Smoking

If you want to lower your risk, two things you can do is to cut down on drinking alcohol and to quit smoking.

Among moderate drinkers, the risk of getting colorectal cancer is 20% more compared with non-drinkers. If you’re a heavy drinker, your risk increases by 50%.

If you are a smoker, you have an 18% higher risk of developing colorectal cancer and a 25% higher risk of dying from cancer compared with a non-smoker.

Say YES to Healthy Diet and Exercise

Changing your diet and exercising can also reduce your risk. If you have a high-fat diet, such as eating a lot of fast foods or fat meat, you are going to be more susceptible to cancers of the colon, uterus and prostate. You should move to a diet with more fruits and vegetables. Red meat, especially those cooked at high temperatures, is something to avoid.

In addition, you should lose weight if you are obese. Studies have shown that obese people have a 1.5-fold increase in the risk of developing colorectal cancer compared with people of normal weight.

I would recommend that you lose weight by exercising. Regular exercise can actually reduce your risk by 20%. As a side benefit, physical activity also reduces the risk of developing breast cancer as well as an aggressive type of prostate cancer.


In short, to lower your risk of colon cancer, drink less, quit smoking, lose weight and exercise.

Dr Foo Kian Fong is the Senior Consultant Medical Oncologist at Parkway Cancer Centre, Singapore.
Posted by ezyhealth on Mar 5 2015. Filed under Health. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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