The Gist of It
- Colorectal / colon cancer is the 2nd most common cancer in Malaysia and top cancer in Singapore.
- You can prevent colorectal cancer by eating healthy, exercising, and getting regular screenings.
- Colon cancer doesn’t show any outward symptoms and screenings are vital to catch it in its early stages.
When you talk about cancer, the first thing that pops into people’s minds are the more “famous” ones like breast or cervical cancer. Colorectal cancer? What’s that? Nobody’s heard much about colorectal cancer, which affects the large intestine (your colon, hence the name) or the rectum. It’s not even as famous as diseases such as diabetes, stroke and heart attack.
But guess what? Colorectal cancer is serious. It’s the second most common cancer amongst Malaysians  (behind breast cancer), and it’s still the top cancer for males in Singapore .
Colorectal Cancer is Preventable
It might be scary, but you need to know that colorectal cancer – like any other type of cancer – is highly treatable if detected early. Many digestive diseases are preventable if we just maintained a good digestive health.
“Most colorectal cancers develop from polyps. The removal of colon polyps can prevent colorectal cancer,” said Datuk Dr Muhammad Radzi Abu Hassan, consultant gastroenterologist of the Digestive Health Advisory Board of Malaysia.
“From common digestive disorders that cause discomfort such as diarrhoea and constipation, to more serious, life-threatening diseases that affect one’s quality of life such as colorectal cancer, digestive health is certainly not something to be taken lightly. Colon polyps and early cancer can have no symptoms. Therefore regular screening is important.”
“We don’t usually associate digestive system diseases with death, but the truth is that they are the sixth principal cause of death in Malaysia and seventh principal cause of hospitalisation in government hospitals, according to the Health Ministry.”
How You Can Prevent Colorectal Cancer
To check the alarming rise of digestive problems that affect Malaysians, Dr Muhammad Radzi proposes a simple three-step course of action:
- Adopt healthy eating habits consisting of a diet rich in fibre and water
- Adopt a healthy lifestyle, one that includes regular exercise
- Go for regular screenings like colonoscopies
Who Should Get Tested?
- Those aged 50 and above
- If you have family history of such cancer or are suffering from other diseases like inflammatory bowel disease, you should get screen earlier around ages 40 – 45.
- Check this risk assessment tool to see if you should be tested.
Colon Cancer Exhibits No Outward Symptoms
Colon cancer can be deadly because it exhibits no outward symptoms and by the time there are symptoms, the cancer is usually in its late stages and has possibly spread to other parts of the body.
While the initial stages of colon cancer may not display any symptoms, there are certain warning signs which require immediate medical attention.
Warning signs include:
- Changes in your usual bowel habits such as persistent diarrhoea or constipation
- Blood in stools
- Severe abdominal pain
- Unexplained weight loss
What To Do About It
One comprehensive health screening method is the colonoscopy – which allows the doctor to view and examine the entire colon and rectum. The procedure also allows for removal of polyps or biopsies and acquiring tissue samples for analysis.
If you feel squeamish about getting the necessary health screening done, be warned – having to undergo colon cancer treatment is much worse!
There is a Good Survival Rate, but Early Detection is Key to Making a Full Recovery
“We just have to extract that portion of the cancer that is affected,” Dr Muhammad Radzi explains.
“The survival rate for colorectal cancer patients is very good. For example, if it is detected at stage 1, the survival rate is greater than 90%. So if we detect it at the polyps stage, it’s even prior to stage one. So, chances are very good.”
Prevention is Better Than Cure
Sadly, one of the most overlooked aspects of our health is the state of our digestive systems; and many Malaysians are unaware of the importance of maintaining our digestive health; or it is simply taken for granted.
The link between nutrition and many cancers has been proven time and time again . Unfortunately, as Malaysians we love our meat too much and eat very little plant foods like legumes, fruits, and veggies. We need to look back at basic nutritional guidelines to improve our gut health, and really start taking what we eat and drink seriously.
Learn what your poop can tell you about the state of your health in this infographic.