Bowel cancer is the 3rd most common cancer worldwide. It is the 3rd most common cancer in men and the 2nd most common cancer in women (WCRF). Unfortunately in Singapore, bowel cancer (or colorectal cancer) is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the country.
With these statistics in mind, it is worth taking the time to understand the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer, and when you should get screened at a medical clinic.
What is bowel cancer?
Bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is a type of cancer that can be found anywhere in the large bowel, including the colon and rectum.
It develops from the inner lining of the bowel and is preceded by growths called polyps, which is a growth of tissue that can be flat, raised or on a stalk. A polyp begins as a benign tissue but they develop into cancer over time. However, not all polyps change into cancer; this usually depends on the type of polyp growing in your large bowel area. To determine if you have a colorectal polyp that could potentially turn cancerous, it is worth having a health screening at a trusted health clinic. After discussing your symptoms, age and family history your doctor may suggest further investigation.
What are the common signs and symptoms of bowel cancer?
In its early stages, many people may not experience any symptoms. Furthermore, some symptoms could be mistaken for other conditions, like irritable bowel syndrome. That’s why when you are experiencing any of these signs, you should make an appointment with a trusted general practitioner clinic.
- Anal or rectal pain
- A lump in the anus or rectum
- Loss of weight
- Change in bowel habits, such as constipation, diarrhoea, or the feeling of incomplete bowel
- Blood in the stool
- Abdominal pain, bloating, or cramping
- Unexplained fatigue
- Constant exhaustion or anaemia
- Change in urine colour
How is bowel cancer diagnosed?
Come in to see a doctor. The doctor will ask about your symptoms and whether you have a family history of bowel cancer. Depending upon your symptoms the doctor may suggest further investigation. These may include:
By undergoing a blood test, your family physician can check any signs you are losing blood in your stools. The test also helps you know if your red blood cell count is low since low red blood cells are common in people with bowel cancer.
Faecal immunochemical test (FIT)
This test involves assessing your stool to see if it has tiny traces of blood. When it does, this could be a sign of cancer. However, it can also indicate other medical conditions which are not cancerous, so your physician will recommend that you undergo more tests. If they confirm it is colorectal cancer, you must undergo early treatment.
During a colonoscopy, a flexible tube that is inserted into the anus pumps air into the colon. The camera on the end of the tube allows your physician to look for any abnormal tissues. If they see one, they will remove it for further testing. Usually, this takes 20 to 30 minutes to complete and you may have some sedative.
What are possible treatment options for bowel cancer?
Your healthcare professionals will advise treatment options for colorectal cancer, depending on the stage of your condition. Treatment options include the following:
- Colorectal surgery – this is the main treatment for early bowel cancer detection. This procedure involves removing the cancerous part of the colon.
- Radiation therapy – this treatment involves using X-rays to remove any cancer cells that might remain after surgery, shrink large tumours before an operation or relieve symptoms of colorectal cancer.
- Chemotherapy – this treatment is recommended after surgery to destroy remaining cancer cells and control tumour growth. Chemotherapy is advised to reduce the risk of the cancer returning.
Detect signs of bowel cancer early with a health screening
Even if you’re not showing signs of colorectal cancer, undergoing a faecal immunochemical test or FIT can help detect if you are at risk of developing the condition. FIT is important for those at high risk, such as people aged 60 or over and those with a family history of bowel cancer. Along with health screenings, you should also practise good habits that will help protect your well-being.
As a well-respected general practitioner clinic in Singapore, Osler Health International will guide patients to a medical plan that is suitable for their needs. A good way to protect and check up on your health is a health screening. We offer women’s health screenings, men’s health screenings, and more. Contact us for more information about our medical clinic and services, or schedule an appointment to meet with any of our healthcare professionals.