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Screening methods for colorectal cancer

  • Faecal immunological stool test (FIT) or faecal occult blood test (FOBT)
    FIT or FOBT, which can be done in the privacy and comfort of one’s home, help detect blood in stool that cannot be seen by the naked eye. The user collects stool samples for two consecutive days using a simple test kit and sends it back to a lab for processing. If the results are positive above a certain predetermined level, a colonoscopy is then needed to properly rule out colon cancer.

    However, when taking the FIT, care must be taken not to consume certain medications prior to the test as they may interfere with the results.
  • Colonoscopy
    In a colonoscopy, after prior bowel cleansing, a fibre-optic flexible tube is inserted up the rectum. Although generally not painful, this test can be uncomfortable; hence a mild sedative is usually given to relieve any discomfort. As these sedatives have a mild amnesic effect, a patient may even forget the specific details of the procedure.

    As a colonoscopy detects both pre-cancerous lesions (such as polyps) as well as cancerous ones, it remains the ‘gold standard’ for colorectal cancer screening. Polyps can be immediately removed during the colonoscopy.

Early detection is your best protection against colorectal cancer

Citing the survival rates for different stages of colon cancer, Associate Professor Tang explains, “In stage 1 of the disease, the cure rate is greater than 90 per cent. In the later stages 3 and 4, the average five-year survival rates are 40-60 per cent and 10 per cent respectively. Hence, early detection is of paramount importance.”

Always remember, when it comes to colorectal cancer:

  • If you’re above 50, insist on going for a screening every three years whether you have symptoms or not.
  • Don’t dismiss potential colon cancer symptoms, especially if they have been present for more than six weeks.
  • Get over any embarrassment you may have when it comes to discussing bowel function with your doctor.
  • If the thought of going for a colonoscopy frightens you, consider a non-invasive screening method like FOBT.

Colorectal cancer was featured in HealthXchange’s “Ask the Specialist” section. Check out the questions from the public, and our specialist’s answers here.

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