Colorectal cancer, the No. 1 cancer in Singapore, can be cured if it’s detected early. In fact, with healthy lifestyle habits and regular screening, it can actually be prevented.
This cancer of the large intestine typically begins with benign growths, which can take years to turn cancerous. If these growths or polyps in the colon or rectum are detected when they are still benign, colorectal cancer can be prevented.
Regular screening via colonoscopy or Faecal Immunochemical Test can help detect these polyps, which is why screening is an important preventive measure for colorectal cancer.
Colorectal cancer symptoms, which usually appear at an advanced stage, include:
• Change in bowel habits – diarrhoea, constipation, frequent bowel movements
• Blood in stools
• Incomplete bowel emptying
• Persistent abdominal discomfort
• Unexplained weight loss
• Weakness, fatigue
What are the causes of colorectal cancer?
Colorectal cancer is caused by a combination of lifestyle, environmental and genetic factors.
Dr Dawn Chong Qingqing, a consultant in the Division of Medical Oncology at the National Cancer Centre Singapore, points to “changes in lifestyle factors over the years with rising incidence of obesity as a result of a Western diet (fast food, sugary drinks), lack of physical activity, unhealthy lifestyle habits such as smoking and alcohol intake” as factors responsible for the rise in colorectal cancer cases in Singapore.
According to the National Registry of Diseases Office, 9,807 new cases of colorectal cancer were diagnosed in Singapore from 2011 to 2015. Of these, 5,383 were males.
Your risk of developing colorectal cancer increases if you are over the age of 50 and have a family history of this cancer, while maintaining normal weight, eating healthily and exercising regularly can help reduce your risk.
“Studies have shown that obese people have a 30 per cent increase in the risk of developing colorectal cancer compared to people of normal weight,” said Dr Chong. “Regular exercise can actually reduce your risk by 20 per cent.”
A healthy diet includes more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, brown rice and less fatty foods and red meat or processed meat. Smoking and alcohol, which increase your risk of colorectal cancer by 30 per cent and 20 per cent respectively, should be avoided.
How is colorectal cancer treated?
Treatment depends on the stage of the cancer and includes surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy, alone or in combination.
“When colorectal cancer is detected early (stages 1-3), treatment is curative. However, when it is detected at later stages when it has spread to other parts of the body, a cure is less likely and treatment is often directed to relieving symptoms,” said Dr Chong.