The mere mention of the word ‘colonoscopy’ can make most people squirm and fidget on their seats – but the truth is, it is not as bad as we imagine it to be! The pre-colonoscopy preparation has improved a lot these days, with the availability of more efficient (and better tasting) bowel cleansing formulas. When it comes to the procedure itself, there is no pain involved at all because typically, the patient is put under conscious sedation. At Alpine Surgical Practice in Singapore, 99% of patients provide positive feedback after the colorectal cancer screening test. In fact, they find it comfortable and much more pleasant than they ever expected. Now, imagine hearing that kind of feedback from a person who has undergone colonoscopy! Hard to believe, right?
So there is no reason to refrain from or delay getting colonoscopies. And you absolutely should, as it is widely accepted as the gold standard for detecting cancer cells and precancerous polyps in the colon. It is accurate and safe and most importantly, it can save your life. Colorectal cancer has a high mortality rate but if it is diagnosed in early stages, this disease is preventable and highly treatable.
To learn more about colorectal cancer screening in Singapore, this article will tackle the following questions:
- What are the possible symptoms of colorectal cancer?
- When should I get screened for colorectal cancer?
- What are the risk factors?
- How can colorectal cancer be prevented?
Possible symptoms of colorectal cancer
Colorectal cancer is more common in older adults, although it can affect anyone at any age. Studies also show that men are more likely to get diagnosed with the disease than women, and among other races, African-Americans are at a higher risk for colorectal cancer.
Another thing about colorectal cancer: it is considered as a “silent” cancer, which means that the symptoms do not usually manifest at its early stages. A patient with this type of cancer may only notice the symptoms when the disease has progressed and the symptoms may vary depending on how large the affected area us and its location in the large intestine.
Below are the known signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer.
- Sudden unexplained weight loss
- Fatigue, listlessness, and/or weakness
- Discomfort in the abdomen that persists, e.g., bloating, mild pain, cramps, or gas
- Presence of blood in the stool
- Rectal bleeding
- Sudden changes in bowel habits (like constipation or diarrhea), or a change in the stool consistency
If you experience one or more of these symptoms for a prolonged period of time, it is best to consult a doctor immediately for a proper screening test.
When to get screened
The best time to get screened is as early as possible; even better when there are no symptoms yet (do not wait for the symptoms to spur you into action!). It is highly recommended that healthy adults at the age of 50 to 75 should get routine colorectal screenings in Singapore. Your doctor may also advise that you start screening at the age of 45 if you are at average risk for the disease. However, if you are at high risk, you will be required to undergo the screening tests at 40 years or younger.
Risk factors for colorectal cancer
There are some risk factors that may indicate if you need to get colorectal cancer screenings at an earlier age. If you have any of the following diseases, you will be considered at average risk: Lynch syndrome, Crohn’s disease, familial adenomatous polyposis or FAB, or if your abdominal or pelvic areas have been exposed to radiation at some point in your life.
You will be considered as high risk for colorectal cancer if one or few of the risk factors below apply to you:
- You have a family member or close relative with colorectal cancer or polyps.
- You have Type 2 diabetes.
- You have an inflammatory bowel disease, e.g., ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.
- You are obese or overweight, and your diet is high in processed meat, red meat, and heavy alcohol.
- You are a smoker, which also heightens the risk of developing other types of cancer.
- You are 50 years old and above. It is a fact that the risk for colorectal cancer increases as a person grows older.
- You are African-American, or from the Jewish people of Eastern European descent.
Not to sound too grim but in the United States alone, colorectal cancer accounts for more than 50,000 deaths per year. So, talk to your doctor if you belong to the average or high-risk category group.
Preventing colorectal cancer
Yes, this cannot be reiterated enough – colorectal cancer is preventable. By making some changes to your lifestyle and getting routine screenings, you can reduce your risk of cancer.
Below are the preventive methods that you can follow:
- Exercise regularly to strengthen the body. People with an active lifestyle have a better defense system against diseases, both internal and external.
- Maintain a well-balanced, healthy diet. You can do this by consuming (or avoiding certain) these food items:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Low-fat or fat-free milk
- Fiber-rich and whole grains foods
- Significantly reducing the intake of processed meat and red meat.
- Lowering sugar intake
If possible, you should also refrain from cooking meats at extremely high temperature. Examples of this are frying and grilling.
- Limit alcohol intake and smoking. Alcohol and smoking are the common culprits behind more types of cancer and other life-threatening conditions. If you can quit both, your body will thank you for it.
- Learn about your family health history. It is good practice to ask your family members about the diseases that run in the bloodline to make sure that you can get early screening tests if needed.
Dr Aaron Poh, Consultant Surgeon
3 Mount Elizabeth, #17-16 Medical Centre, Singapore 228510
Phone: +65 6589 8929, Whatsapp: +65 8875 0080