What is colorectal cancer (colon cancer)?

Colorectal cancer (also known as colon cancer) is a top diagnosed cancer in Singapore - number 1 in men and number 2 in women. Although the exact cause of colorectal cancer remains unknown, many risk factors have been established. For instance, if any member of your family has been diagnosed with colorectal cancer before the age of 45 years, you are considered to be at high risk.

Other non-modifiable risk factors for colorectal cancer include:

  • A history of familial adenomatous polyposis

  • Ulcerative colitis, a disease which tends to run in families

  • Two or three immediate relatives diagnosed with colorectal cancer at any age

However, that does not mean that most cases of colorectal cancer are hereditary in nature.

“Less than 10 per cent of colorectal cancer cases are due to inherited gene defects,” shares doctors from the Division of Medical Oncology at National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), a member of the SingHealth​ group.

In other words, you can actually do something to reduce your colorectal cancer or colon cancer risk. Here are seven effective ways.

8 Ways to prevent colorectal cancer (colon cancer)

  1. Screening for colorectal cancer is your best protection. A simple way to find out if you may have colon cancer is through a stool test called FIT (Faecal Immunochemical Test). If you are 50 years old and above, and do not have any symptoms of colorectal cancer, it is recommended that you do a FIT once a year. The test can be done easily, in the comfort of your home.
    A colonoscopy is the gold standard for complete large bowel evaluation. It has high sensitivity and specificity and the long recommended screening interval of 10 years. During a colonoscopy, asymptomatic polyps can also be removed before they become malignant.            

  2. Eat less fat and red meat. There is convincing evidence that red meat contributes to colorectal cancer risk. The World Cancer Research Fund recommends eating a maximum of 500g of cooked red meat per week.

  3. Eat more vegetables, fruits and fibre. Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MOH) recommends 5 or more servings of vegetables and fruits daily. Fibre helps to speed up the passage of food and dilute the carcinogens in the colon, according to the Singapore Cancer Society.

  4. Exercise regularly. Aim to have 150 minutes of physical activity every week (or 30 minutes daily). Find it difficult to start exercising? Start simple by walking more, taking the stairs and even doing household chores. Some physical activity is better than none!

  5. Quit smoking (if you're still a smoker). Tobacco has been shown to increase polyp formation. Polyps are like bumps on the surface of the colon which can grow to be cancerous.

  6. Cut down on alcohol, especially distilled spirits. Having more than nine drinks a week of distilled spirits on a regular basis (for at least 10 years) can increase your colon cancer risk by more than 300 per cent.

  7. Control your diabetes. People with diabetes (diabetics) are up to 40 per cent more likely to develop colon cancer than non-diabetics.

  8. Consider taking a calcium supplement. According to the World Cancer Research Fund, calcium “probably” has a protective effect against colorectal cancer. The evidence is derived from studies using calcium supplements at a dose of 1200mg/day.

Colorectal cancer was featured in HealthXchange’s “Ask the Specialist” section. Our specialist answers frequently asked questions from the public here.

Ref: U11​

Check out other articles on colorectal cancer (colon cancer):

Colorectal Cancer Affects the Young Too

Colorectal Cancer: Commonly Asked Questions Answered!

Colorectal Cancer Treatment: What Are Your Options?

Your Best Protection Against Colon Cancer

Suspect You May Have Colon Cancer? What to Do