The large intestine, or colon, is where the body extracts salt and water from solid wastes which is then moved through the rectum and expelled through the anus. Colon cancer is cancer of the large intestine – the final part of the digestive tract. Polyps, which are noncancerous (benign) lumps, may form on the inner wall of the colon and rectum but 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.
Screening For Colorectal Cancer
Colon cancer is one of the few cancer that is actually preventable. Prevention of colon cancer is done through screening.
All person above the age of 45 should go for colorectal cancer screening regardless of whether they have symptoms. The previous recommendation used to be for those above the age of 50 and it is recently updated by the American Cancer Society.
In Singapore, colorectal screening with stool test is available through polyclinics, family doctors and various organization such as Singapore Cancer Society. This should be done at least yearly
Alternative to stool test is to do colonoscopy once every ten years.
All persons with increased risk should undergo colonoscopy even earlier. These include people with
- A strong family history of colorectal cancer or certain types of polyps
- A personal history of colorectal cancer or certain types of polyps
- A personal history of inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease)
- A known family history of a hereditary colorectal cancer syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or Lynch syndrome (also known as hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer or HNPCC)
- A personal history of radiation to the abdomen (belly) or pelvic area to treat a prior cancer
During colonoscopy, polyps are detected and remove. The procedure to remove the polyp is called polypectomy. The polyps will be retrieved for examination under the microscope.
Effective removal of all polyps during colonoscopy will prevent colorectal cancer.
Most colorectal cancers begin as a benign polyp. Polyps, usually do not give rise to any symptoms unless they are very large.
Many people with colon cancer experience vague or no symptoms in the early stages. When they do appear at a later stages, they can also vary depending on the cancer’s size and location.
The common symptoms of colorectal cancer include:
- Blood in stool or rectal bleeding
- Change in bowel habits, including constipation, diarrhea, or a change in stool consistence which lasts longer than 4 weeks
- Weakness or fatigue
- Persistent abdominal symptoms like gas, cramps and pain
- Unexplained weight loss
Causes And Risk Factors
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, thus have an increased risk of the disease.
- 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 colon cancer.
- Intestinal Conditions:People with chronic inflammatory diseases of the colon such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis face a significant increased risk of 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 colon cancer.
- Obesity and Sedentary Lifestyle: These factors are interrelated and can increase the risk of colon cancer.
- Dietary Habits:These include preserved meat, red meat and smoking.
Treatment of colon cancers, largely depend on the stage of cancer. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be recommended as treatment options.
Visit a clinic or talk to a specialist in gastroenterology about your options and the costs involved, and discuss which tests or treatment methods are more appropriate for your needs.
- digestive illnesses