In Singapore, colorectal cancer (also known as colon cancer) continues to be the most common cancer affecting men and second most common for women after breast cancer. It has been overall the most common cancer in Singapore over the last 10 years. It is a cancer that may be prevented or treated with cure if discovered early.

“Most types of colorectal cancer arise from polyps which start out as benign or non-cancerous growths from the cells lining the inside of the colon or rectum. The change from being benign to becoming cancerous may take years but once a polyp becomes cancerous, it can grow and invade surrounding organs,” says Associate Professor Tang Choong Leong, Head and Senior Consultant from the Department of Colorectal Surgery, Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth group.

Symptoms of colorectal cancer

Most cases of early colon cancer hardly present any symptoms. Even during advanced stages, colon cancer can have seemingly benign symptoms:

  • Change in bowel habits
  • Presence of blood in stool
  • Persistent abdominal discomfort, pain or mass felt
  • Difficulty or pain with reduction of stool calibre during defaecation
  • Unexplained weight loss or decrease in red blood cells (anaemia)

Colon cancer affects the young too

Although the risk of getting colorectal cancer increases significantly after the age of 50, with most patients being in the 55-65 age group, up to one-fifth of the cases seen by doctors today are young adults.

Furthermore, diagnosis among younger patients is often delayed compared to their older counterparts due to the misunderstanding that colorectal cancer is rare among this group of patients. In most patients, by the time the condition is properly diagnosed, about 50 to 60 per cent already have advanced stage cancer (stage 3 or 4).

Read on to learn about the screening methods to detect colorectal cancer.

Ref: R14