Colon cancer: What is it and how is it treated?

By: Osler Health International
Posted on: 1 Nov 2023

Colon cancer or colorectal cancer is considered one of the most common causes of fatalities in Singapore, with approximately 1,865 cases each year, according to the National University Cancer Institute of Singapore. In most people, this type of cancer develops slowly over several years, so in its early stages, you may not experience symptoms. The only way you may detect it is through a comprehensive health screening.

As colon cancer is insidious and hard to detect at early stages, it is important to understand the causes and who may be most at risk.

What is colon cancer?

Colon cancer refers to cancer of the colon, which is the main part of the large intestine, and the rectum, which is the passageway connecting the colon to the anus. The cause of this type of cancer is normally a growth of tissue or tumour that often develops initially as a non-cancerous polyp on the inner lining of the colon or rectum. Though it begins as non-cancerous, it may start to develop into cancer over time. However, not all polyps in the colon turn into cancer; it largely depends on the kind of polyp.

Risk factors of colon cancer

The following factors may put you at risk of developing colon cancer:

  • Being over the age of 50
  • Having a family history of colon or rectum cancer
  • Having a previous history of colon polyps
  • Having a previous history of ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
  • Smoking and having a low-fibre diet

If reading the list above indicates you may be at risk of colon cancer, it’s important that you arrange an on-site health screening in Singapore to ensure early intervention. We know that early intervention leads to better health outcomes.

Signs and symptoms of colon cancer

In the early stages of colon cancer, you may not encounter any symptoms. However, in the later stages, common signs and symptoms include:

  • Changes in bowel habits, such as more frequent diarrhoea or constipation
  • Blood in stools
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue

How is colon cancer detected?

In Singapore, there are two types of health screenings available for detecting colon cancer: Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) and colonoscopy.

The FIT test examines stool samples for hidden blood, serving as an early indicator of colon cancer. This kit is straightforward and allows for easy self-administration within the convenience of your home.

A colonoscopy is a medical procedure that facilitates the examination of your colon’s lining for any irregular growth. Using a pliable and slender tube approximately the thickness of a finger, it is gently inserted into the anus. This tube is equipped with an integrated camera and enables your doctor to inspect your colon visually. Typically, the procedure is completed in approximately 15 to 30 minutes. Normally, the patient is provided with some relaxation medication before the procedure.

Treatment for colon cancer

Once diagnosed, there are various treatment options depending on the stage, type and location of the cancer. Treatment plans for colon cancer may include:

  • Colorectal surgery – With surgical treatment, the part of the colon that contains the cancer cells will be removed.
  • Radiation therapy – Radiation therapy employs X-rays to eliminate residual cancer cells post-surgery, reduce the size of large tumours before an operation for easier removal, or alleviate symptoms associated with colorectal cancer.
  • Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy helps eradicate cancer cells following surgery and manage the growth of tumours.

How to prevent colon cancer

Although there is a genetic element to most cancers, improving your lifestyle choices to minimise risk is known to support your long-term health. The following lifestyle amendments can help protect you from developing colon cancer:

  • Maintain a healthy diet by consuming more whole grains, lean proteins, and a variety of colourful, nutrient-dense foods
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Avoid smoking
  • Learn appropriate stress management techniques, such as mindfulness and relaxation exercises, as chronic stress can have adverse effects on overall health.
  • Book in for regular health screenings at a family care clinic, especially if you have a family history of colon cancer. Routine screenings, such as colonoscopies, can aid in the early detection and prevention of the disease.

The importance of a comprehensive health screening

If you have a family history of cancer (including colon cancer), prioritising health screenings and regular check-ups is recommended for your healthy longevity.

For more cancer awareness insights, get more information about prostate cancer and cervical vs ovarian cancer.

Raffles Hotel Arcade Star Vista