Combatting Common Misconceptions About Colorectal Cancer

March 16, 2020

How much do you know about colorectal cancer? Given that colorectal cancer is the most common cancer in Singapore, it will be worth your while to understand a little bit more about it so that you can better guard against it.

Unfortunately, many people have misconceptions about colorectal cancer, which could lead to unwarranted fear or misled complacency. Here, we address some of the most commonly heard misconceptions our doctors hear from patients regarding colorectal cancer, and correct them with the facts.

Myth: Only men get colorectal cancer.

Fact: Colorectal cancer can affect both men and women.

Colorectal cancer is amongst one of the top 3 cancers diagnosed in Singapore, and it affects people across both genders. According to research from the Singapore Cancer Registry based on figures from 2011 to 2015, colorectal cancer makes up 1 in 7 of cancers diagnosed in women, making it second only to breast cancer, with lung cancer following closely behind.

In men, colorectal cancer makes up 1 in 6 cancers, making it the top cancer diagnosis amongst men in Singapore, followed by lung and prostate cancer.

Myth: People under 50 years of age don’t need to be worried about colorectal cancer.

Fact: Colorectal cancer can affect persons of any age.

The risk of contracting colorectal cancer rises as one grows older, but it does not mean that young people are safe from it. In fact, the incidence of colorectal cancer in younger people is on the rise. 10 years ago, only about 1 in 10 cases of colorectal cancer were in persons below the age of 50, but in the years 2011 to 2015, this rate has increased to 1 out of 5.

While age is one risk factor, young people also need to be aware of other factors that put them in risk, like their family history, existing or history of bowel-related conditions, a diet high in red meats and/or processed foods, a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, and heavy alcohol consumption.

Myth: Persons without symptoms do not need colorectal cancer screening.

Fact: Screening can detect cancer before symptoms arise, and offers a higher chance for effective treatment.

As many as half of colorectal cancer patients don’t display the common symptoms like blood in stools, diarrhoeaconstipation, bloated stomach or stomach pain before the cancer is discovered. Screening tests help to detect cancers before symptoms surface, and allows for early intervention, which increases the chances of effective treatment and full recovery.

Some screening tests also detect pre-cancerous growths like polyps. Colonoscopy is one screening method that also offers the possibility of removing small polyps before they develop into tumours.

Myth: I must get a colonoscopy to screen for colorectal cancer.

Fact: There are several tests available for colorectal screening.

Colonoscopy stands as the most reliable method for detecting colorectal cancer. However, for those who prefer not to undergo colonoscopy, there are various alternatives available as well.

Stool tests like the faecal occult blood test or the faecal immunochemical test are non-invasive methods to detect blood in the stool. One can also opt for CT-assisted virtual colonoscopy to let the doctor examine the colon without a physical colonoscopy.

While these tests are good for preliminary testing, it should be noted that any abnormal results are still best checked out through a colonoscopy.

Being informed about your risks and options when it comes to your health is one of the best ways to guard against diseases like colorectal cancer. If you would like to know more about your risk for colorectal cancer, don’t hesitate to consult a colon cancer specialist in Singapore to walk you through a thorough health history examination and give you advice on screenings recommended for you.