What is Colon Cancer?
Colon cancer is cancer of the large intestine – the final part of the digestive tract. Polyps are noncancerous (benign) lumps that may form on the inner wall of the colon and rectum. When left undetected, they may also develop into cancer over time.
One of the most common cancers in Singapore is colon cancer which affects both men and women.
Most colorectal cancers begin as benign polyps. Polyps usually do not give rise to any symptoms unless they expand in size.
Many people with colon cancer are asymptomatic in the early stages. For people with colon cancer at a later stage, the colon cancer symptoms may vary depending on cancer’s size and location.
The common symptoms of colorectal cancer include:
- Blood in stool or rectal bleeding
- Change in bowel habits, including constipation, diarrhoea, or a change in stool consistency that lasts longer than 4 weeks
- Weakness or fatigue
- Persistent abdominal symptoms like gas, cramps and pain
- Unexplained weight loss
You should see a colon cancer doctor if you notice any of these symptoms mentioned above, especially if they are persistent.
In most cases, the exact causes of colon cancer are unknown, but it has several potential risk factors which are:
- Age: A great majority of people diagnosed with colon cancer are aged 45 years and above. This means advancing age increases the risk of colon cancer.
- Personal History: If you already have been detected with polyps or diagnosed with colon cancer in the past, you are at a higher risk of developing colon cancer.
- Intestinal Conditions: People with chronic inflammatory diseases of the colon such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis face a significantly increased risk of developing colon cancer.
- Family History of Colon Cancer: Individuals with genetic syndromes passed through family generations as well as those who have relatives or family members with polyps or colorectal cancer are also at higher risk of developing colon cancer.
- Obesity and Sedentary Lifestyle: These factors are interrelated and can increase the risk of developing colon cancer.
- Dietary Habits: These include preserved meat, red meat and smoking.
Colon cancer is one of the few forms of cancer that is preventable via early detection through routine screening.
All persons above the age of 45 should go to a colon cancer clinic like GutCare for colorectal cancer screening with any colon cancer specialist regardless of whether they have symptoms. While screening can be done through a stool test, colonoscopy is the gold standard for diagnosing colorectal cancer.
All persons with increased risk should undergo colonoscopy even earlier. These include people with
- personal or family history of colorectal cancer or certain types of polyps
- A personal history of inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease)
A colonoscopy can aid in the diagnosis and removal of polyps. Upon removal, these polyps can be examined further under a microscope.
Effective removal of all polyps during colonoscopy will prevent colorectal cancer.
Treatment of colon cancers largely depends on the stage of cancer. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be recommended as treatment options.
Visit a colon cancer clinic or talk to a colon cancer specialist who is also an expert in gastroenterology about your options and the costs involved, and discuss which tests or treatment methods are more appropriate for your needs.