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Early Detection of Colorectal Cancer: The Role of Colonoscopy

07 Jun 2024

Early Detection of Colorectal Cancer: The Role of Colonoscopy
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Colorectal cancer is a major health concern worldwide, representing one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths. Early detection significantly improves treatment outcomes and survival rates. One of the most effective tools for early detection is colonoscopy, a procedure that allows for the direct visualisation and removal of precancerous polyps. This article explores the importance of early detection of colorectal cancer, colon cancer symptoms, and the pivotal role colonoscopy plays in this process.

Understanding Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer begins in the colon or rectum, parts of the large intestine, and often starts as benign polyps. Over time, some of these polyps can become cancerous. Factors such as age, genetic predisposition, lifestyle, and certain medical conditions can increase the risk of developing colorectal cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, the majority of colorectal cancer cases occur in individuals over the age of 50, but the incidence in younger populations is rising.

Colon Cancer Symptoms

Recognising colon cancer symptoms is key to early diagnosis and treatment. Common symptoms include changes in bowel habits (such as diarrhoea or constipation), blood in the stool, abdominal pain or cramping, unexplained weight loss, and fatigue. If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to consult a healthcare provider for further evaluation.

Importance of Early Detection

Early detection of colorectal cancer is crucial because it typically develops slowly over several years. When detected at an early stage, the survival rate is significantly higher. The five-year survival rate for localised colorectal cancer is about 90%, but this rate drops dramatically when the cancer has spread to distant organs. Early detection not only saves lives but also reduces the need for extensive and costly treatments.

Colonoscopy: A Gold Standard for Screening

Colonoscopy is widely regarded as the gold standard for colorectal cancer screening due to its high sensitivity and specificity. During the procedure, a long, flexible tube with a camera (colonoscope) is inserted into the rectum to examine the entire colon. This allows gastroenterologists to identify and remove polyps before they become cancerous, thereby preventing colorectal cancer.

How Colonoscopy Works

  • Preparation: Patients need to prepare for a colonoscopy by cleansing their colon. This typically involves a clear liquid diet and laxatives taken the day before the procedure.
  • Procedure: During the colonoscopy, patients are usually sedated to ensure comfort. The colonoscope is then gently guided through the rectum and colon. The camera at the tip of the colonoscope transmits images to a monitor, allowing the doctor to closely examine the colon lining.
  • Polyp Removal and Biopsy: If polyps are found, they can be removed immediately using special tools passed through the colonoscope. These polyps are then sent for biopsy to determine if they are precancerous or cancerous.
  • Post-Procedure: After the procedure, patients are monitored until the effects of sedation wear off. Most people can resume their normal activities the next day.

Advantages of Colonoscopy

  • Direct Visualisation: Colonoscopy provides a direct view of the entire colon, making it possible to detect even small polyps that other screening methods might miss.
  • Polyp Removal: Polyps can be removed during the same procedure, eliminating potential precancerous growths before they become problematic.
  • Biopsy Capability: Tissue samples can be taken for further analysis, aiding in accurate diagnosis and staging of colorectal cancer.
  • Long Interval Between Screenings: If no polyps are found and there are no other risk factors, a colonoscopy might not need to be repeated for ten years.

Risks and Considerations

While colonoscopy is a safe procedure, it does carry some risks, such as bleeding, perforation of the colon, and adverse reactions to sedation. These risks are relatively rare and are often outweighed by the benefits of early detection. Patients should discuss their individual risk factors and concerns with their healthcare provider to make an informed decision about screening.

Other Screening Methods

In addition to colonoscopy, several other screening methods are available:

  • Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT): This test detects hidden blood in the stool, which can be a sign of colorectal cancer. It is less invasive but must be done annually.
  • Stool DNA Test: This test looks for abnormal DNA associated with colorectal cancer in stool samples. It can be done every three years.
  • Flexible Sigmoidoscopy: This procedure is similar to a colonoscopy but examines only the lower part of the colon. It is typically done every five years.
  • CT Colonography (Virtual Colonoscopy): This imaging test uses CT scans to create a detailed view of the colon. It is done every five years but requires a full bowel preparation similar to colonoscopy.

While these methods can be effective, colonoscopy remains the most comprehensive option due to its ability to visualise the entire colon and remove polyps during the same procedure.

Conclusion

Early detection of colorectal cancer through screening is a powerful tool in reducing the burden of this disease. Colonoscopy stands out as the most effective method for early detection and prevention due to its ability to directly visualise and remove polyps. Regular screening, starting at the recommended age, is essential for everyone, especially those with increased risk factors.

At GUTCARE, we are committed to providing comprehensive care for gastrointestinal health, including expert colonoscopy services. Our experienced team is dedicated to ensuring that every patient receives the highest standard of care, promoting early detection and prevention of colorectal cancer. Schedule your screening today and take a proactive step towards safeguarding your health.

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Reference(s):

https://www.cancer.org/cancer/types/colon-rectal-cancer/about/key-statistics.html

https://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/colorect.html

https://www.ncis.com.sg/Cancer-Information/About-Cancer/Pages/Colorectal-Cancer.asp