Colorectal cancer, found to be more common in developed countries, is also the most common cancer in Singapore. Statistics have shown that more than 75% of colorectal cancer cases are not inherited.
Thankfully, there are good treatments available for it, according to Dr Dennis Koh, general surgeon at Mount Elizabeth Hospital. Colorectal cancer is by no means a death sentence because it can be treated, especially with early detection. The even better news is that colorectal cancer is a cancer that can be nipped in the bud during screening.
Colorectal cancer starts in the colon or the rectum. The warning signs include:
1. Monitor your symptoms and weight
The problem is that many of the abovementioned colorectal cancer signs overlap with the symptoms of normal benign conditions like constipation or food poisoning.
But watch if your symptoms persist and grow more severe over time. For example, you may experience diarrhoea and vomiting if you get food poisoning. However, these symptoms go away when you recover. On the other hand, symptoms due to cancer usually persist and grow more severe with time.
Weight loss is a more worrying sign. Most doctors agree that you should seek medical attention and evaluation if you lose more than 5 per cent of your weight in 6 – 12 months without intending to.
2. Consult a doctor early
The symptoms of colorectal cancer may initially be mild and easily dismissed by patients. Many patients will seek medical help only when they are suffering quite a lot of discomfort from the symptoms. By the times the symptoms become severe, the cancer would have grown and become more advanced.
Consult your family doctor if you have new symptoms related to the stomach or bowel, especially they don't go away or get more severe. If the symptoms persist despite treatment, get a referral to see a specialist (colorectal surgeon).
3. Go for screening
More importantly, get yourself screened for colorectal cancer on a regular basis. Do not think that colorectal cancer will not happen to you, and do not wait for symptoms to arise before you screen. Screening is for people with no symptoms of colorectal cancer. A colonoscopy can detect and remove non-cancerous growths in the colon before they develop into cancer.
Regular colorectal screening is recommended for those aged 50 and above. Those who are at high risk – such as those with a family history of the cancer – should start getting screened earlier.
Screening tests include a faecal immunochemical test (FIT), which is done yearly to test for small amounts of blood in stools, and colonoscopy, a more accurate test which can be done every 10 years to look at the inner lining of the large intestine.