Colorectal Cancer Awareness – What Should You Know?
As we step into March, we begin the month dedicated to raising awareness of Colorectal Cancer.
Did you know that Colorectal Cancer (also known as Colon or Rectal Cancer) is the number one cause of death in Singapore? To date, we have more than 1,200 cases each year.
At first, thought to be more prevalent amongst the middle-aged, colorectal cancer is steadily rising in cases in young adults.
While there may not be tell-tale signs of whether you have colorectal cancer, one of the most powerful tools to counter it is to conduct regular colorectal cancer screening.
Precancerous polyps can be present, often without symptoms, in the colon for years before invasive cancer develops. A colonoscopy allows doctors to find and remove precancerous polyps before they have the chance to develop into cancer. In this way, colorectal cancer can be 100% prevented.
It is essential to know the signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer as early detection can save your life. So, let’s find out about colorectal cancer.
What Is Colorectal Cancer?
Colorectal cancer refers to cancers that begin in the large intestine (the colon) or the rectum. Colorectal cancer is the most common cancer in men and the second most common cancer in women. It is also one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in Singapore, with more than 1,865 deaths each year.
When cells in the colon start growing uncontrollably, they can form polyps. A polyp begins as a small growth and may increase to be first precancerous before becoming full cancerous. The development of colorectal cancer may happen slowly and in stages, and usually over many years.
What Are The Signs & Symptoms Of Colorectal Cancer?
Colorectal cancer can cause many different signs and symptoms. However, not all these symptoms will occur in every person with the disease.
The most common symptoms include:
- Blood in the stool (rectal bleeding)
- Change in bowel habits, such as diarrhoea, or constipation
- Feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that is not relieved after going to the toilet
- Stools that are narrower than usual
- Cramping or abdominal (stomach) pain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Unintended weight loss
If you have any of these symptoms, it does not necessarily mean you have colorectal cancer. However, it is important to see your doctor and find out what is causing them.
How Is Colorectal Cancer Diagnosed?
Colorectal cancer can be diagnosed in several ways. The most common way is by doing a physical exam and looking inside the rectum and colon with a special scope called a sigmoidoscope or a colonoscope. Other tests that may be done include a faecal occult blood test, a CT scan or an MRI.
In Singapore, there are a total of 4 methods for screening for colorectal cancer:
- Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT),
- Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT),
- Barium Enema
Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT)
The FOBT is a simple and effective way to screen yourself or your loved ones against cancerous polyps in the colon. This test cannot detect everything, but it reveals signs that may indicate something more serious, so you can be further evaluated using medical imaging systems such as X-rays and CT scans.
Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT)
The Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) utilises your stool samples to test for tiny traces of blood in your stools, which might otherwise go unnoticed. However, it lacks accuracy because other medical conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease produce similar symptoms and can confuse the results.
The barium enema examination uses X-rays to investigate the lower gastrointestinal tract. The procedure will fill your colon with barium sulphate and allow the large intestine, including the rectum, to be made visible on X-ray film. With the images obtained, doctors will be able to identify problems in the colon and rectum that could otherwise go unnoticed; however, if not enough detail is captured on film, then there are minute chances that an abnormality may be missed.
Colonoscopy is considered the gold standard for colorectal cancer screening as it allows doctors to view the entirety of the colon during an investigation. Moreover, if polyps are found in this process, they can be removed by surgery simultaneously, eliminating any possible issues of developing into cancerous growth in the future.
How Is Colorectal Cancer Treated?
Colorectal cancer can be treated in several ways, depending on the stage (extent) of the disease. Treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy.
If you have colorectal cancer and your doctor recommends surgery, the procedure will remove part or all of the colon to stop its spread. Doctors will usually assess if it is necessary for the entire colon to be removed to reduce the possibility of a relapse.
What Is The Prognosis For Colorectal Cancer?
Colorectal cancer is most treatable when detected early. The chances of survival are most significant when the cancer is confined to the colon or rectum.
The overall five-year survival rate for colorectal cancer is about 65%. However, the prognosis (outlook) for people with colorectal cancer varies depending on the stage of the disease and other individual factors.
Colorectal cancer does not have to be a death sentence. With early detection and treatment, most patients with this disease can be cured. It is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer so that you can get treatment as soon as possible if you suspect you might have the disease.
In this month of March, let’s endeavour to share this valuable information with your friends and family to ensure that they are equipped with the knowledge and ability to help save lives.
If you’re looking for a trusted doctor who will be able to answer your questions about colorectal cancer, consider scheduling an assessment with our team to better understand your health. Contact us directly via WHATSAPP or call our CLINIC for assistance.