Colorectal cancer: The signs, symptoms, tests and treatment

30 December 2015

Colorectal cancer is the most common cancer in Singapore affecting both men and women. Surprisingly though, it’s one of the least talked about – perhaps because of the delicate subject matter. The fact is, like all other cancers, early detection can save lives and in a bid to increase awareness. Dr Ganesh Ramalingam of G & L Surgical sheds light on what steps you can take to prevent and treat it.

Understanding Colorectal CancerColorectal cancer can arise at any age. it occurs in the large intestine (colon) or the rectum (end of the colon), and develops from the cells lining the two. Besides age, other high risk factors include: a family history of polyps and colorectal cancer (especially so if the family member is young); a personal history of ulcerative colitis, colonic polyps or cancer(s) of other regions.

The risk of developing colorectal cancer without any other risk factors is one in 50 ( two percent ). It’s usually treated with surgery during which the part of the colon with the cancer is removed. In more severe cases, surgery is combined with either chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Symptoms to Look Out ForThe cancer can go undetected in its early stages, as there are no visible symptoms. Cancer of the colon can be due to genetic or environmental factors – these may include obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, a high fat or low fibre diet. The later stages of colorectal cancer are characterised by abdominal pain, bloating, bleeding when passing stools, lumps in the stomach and weight loss.

Prevention Is KeyA high fibre, low fat diet and active lifestyle, together with regular colonoscopy screening can prevent this type of cancer. When detected early, colorectal cancer can be successfully treated. If diagnosed late, in most cases the cancer proves to be fatal. The disease usually starts as a polyp, which is a small growth in the lining. This may increase in size to become a pre-cancerous and the a fully cancerous growth. This usually takes many years to develop.Screening OptionsThe best way to prevent the development of colon cancer? Get screened regularly. You can detect and remove small polyps and precancerous lumps with a colonoscopy.

Screening is usually recommended for anyone above the age of 50 – earlier if they display the risk factors mentioned above. If they have polyps, then the specific type (whether it is precancerous, for example ) is important and the patient will be put on a surveillance program and should come back for an endoscopy in one to three years.

It is possible that the polyps will grow back in the same place o r somewhere else in the colon within this short period of time. If the successive scope doesn’t reveal any more new polyps, then the patient can go back to the five to 10 yearly interval for colonoscopy. However, if the patient has a family history of colorectal cancer, then they will be told the age and the intervals at which they should get screened.

Don’t wait until it’s too late. Need more information? Book your screening with G&L Surgical now.