Medically reviewed by Dr Jackie Lam, M.B.B.S. (Singapore)
What is Colorectal Cancer?
Colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers affecting both men and women in Singapore, being ranked number one for men and number two for women as commonest cancers in Singapore. Colorectal cancer is a cancer that is found in the large intestines. The best approach to colorectal cancer is early detection through screening as early detection allows for early curative treatment.
What Are Some Symptoms Of Colorectal Cancer?
At an early stage, colorectal cancer has no symptoms. However, there are warning symptoms that might hint at the possibility of colorectal cancer. Some of these symptoms include:
- Blood in stool
- Change in bowel habits ( constipation, stool becoming thinner, change in stool frequency)
- Abdominal pain or discomfort
- Anaemia (low red blood cell count)
If you have encountered some of these symptoms recently, it is important to consult a doctor and get it checked early. While these symptoms might also be associated with other illnesses, it is recommended that you undergo a colorectal cancer screening to screen early for colorectal cancer.
Why the Need for Colorectal Cancer Screening?
Early detection is crucial for early curative treatment.
There are 2 main types of colorectal cancer screenings. These include colonoscopy (which is also known as the “gold standard” for screening of colorectal cancer) and stool tests such as Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT).
During a colonoscopy, a doctor examines the entire colon for any abnormalities or signs of cancer using a camera probe that is inserted through the anus to observe for signs of cancer. This is done under sedation and patients do not usually remember the procedure. Should the results come back with no abnormalities from a colonoscopy, it is valid for the next 10 years.
Stool tests such as the Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT), check for the presence of blood in the stool which may be invisible to the naked eye. This is a gross method to screen for early colorectal cancer and has to be performed annually.
What Happens If I Get Colorectal Cancer? What are my Treatment Options?
There are a few treatment options for colorectal cancer. Depending on when it has been diagnosed, the treatment options will vary. Surgery will be the most common form of intervention for colorectal cancer. A local excision can be performed if the cancer is still in its earlier stages. However, if the cancer is found to be larger, a more extensive operation needs to be performed. This process involves the surgeon removing the part of the colon that has the cancer, along with some of the healthy parts of the colon , followed by joining the rest of the large intestines back together.
Other forms of treatment that are non-invasive include radiotherapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy.
What Can I Do To Minimise The Chances Of Getting Colorectal Cancer?
Risk factors for colorectal cancer are divided into modifiable and non-modifiable factors.
Non-modifiable factors include family history of colorectal cancer or other associated cancers, gender, race and age.
Modifiable factors include that of lifestyle as well as diet. Studies have found that consuming diets high in red meat and processed meat will increase the risks of contracting colorectal cancer.
Smoking largely increases the risk of colorectal cancer as well.
Screen For Life: Colorectal Cancer
Understanding that colorectal cancer is one of the leading cancers amongst men and women, the Singapore government understands the need to put in place measures for Singaporeans to screen for this cancer early. There are 2 main modalities of screening for colorectal cancer. Singaporeans above the age of 50 automatically qualify for Health Promotion Board’s Screen for Life (SFL) programme. Depending on age as well as income, patients can co-pay a maximum of $5 for a stool FIT test as our clinics.
For patients who are keen for a colonoscopy, they are also highly encouraged to speak to our doctors at Keystone Clinic & Surgery who will be able to advise accordingly and arrange for an early colonoscopy.
For any more queries and to screen for colorectal cancer, you may head down to our clinics in Ang Mo Kio or Tanah Merah to speak with our doctors who will be happy to share more.
Singapore Cancer Registry Annual Report 2020. https://nrdo.gov.sg/docs/librariesprovider3/default-document-library/scr-2020-annual-report_web-release.pdf?sfvrsn=e0a73b99_0
Curasia Endoscopy Centre. What is a Colonoscopy? 2022. https://curasia.com/colonoscopy-screening/
Otto S. Lin; Acquired Risk Factors for Colorectal Cancer. https://link.springer.com/protocol/10.1007/978-1-60327-492-0_16
M. Bretthauer; Colorectal cancer screening. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1365-2796.2011.02399.x