Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the cancer of the lower part of your digestive system (colon). Most cases of CRC begin with small clumps of cells called polyps. Over time, these polyps manifest to become malignant (cancer cells).
Worldwide, CRC is the third most common cancer, with nearly 1.4 million new cases diagnosed in 2012 alone. Meanwhile, it is the most common cancer among men and second most common cancer among women in Malaysia. CRC is highly treatable if it is detected early.
Furthermore, screening methods such as Faecal Occult Blood Tests (FOBTs) and colonoscopy could effectively reduce the financial burden associated with CRC treatment/therapy and lower its mortality by 33% and 56%, respectively.
High-risk individuals include:
- Both men and women 50 years old and above.
- A person who has been diagnosed with colon cancer or polyps in the past.
- A person who suffers from chronic inflammatory diseases of the colon, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
- Has a family history of colon cancer.
- Practices an unhealthy diet (low in fibre, high in fat).
- Lives a sedentary lifestyle.
- Excessive consumption of alcohol or smokes cigarettes.
- People who are overweight, obese or have diabetes are at greater risk.
- People who had undergone radiotherapy treatment.
Your Options for CRC Screening
Faecal Occult Blood Test
FOBT is the cheapest and most acceptable test available to screen for CRC. The test detects the presence of microscopic or invisible blood in the stool.
Possible reasons why blood would appear in the stool:
- Growth of non-cancerous polyps or cancerous cells.
- A ruptured swollen blood vessel (haemorrhoid) near the anus or lower rectum.
- Split and cracks in the lining of the anal opening.
- Inflammation caused by intestinal infection.
- Digestive diseases such as Crohn’s or diverticular disease, ulcers, Merkel’s diverticulum and other abnormalities.
Most kits today use the immunochemical method (iFOBT or FIT) which is convenient, non-invasive, does not require you to go on a specific diet and you can see your results immediately. FOBT should be done once annually.
You can get the kit at the nearest klinik kesihatan or public hospital for free. A positive FOBT result does not necessarily mean you have CRC, but it is a strong indication. Regardless, you need to make an appointment with your doctor for a follow up diagnose.
If your FOBT results come out positive or if you have reached 50 years of age and have an increased risk of CRC, you should consider a colonoscopy.
This screening method allows doctors to probe your large intestines (colon and rectum) using a colonoscope – which is essentially a tiny microscopic camera attached to a thin, flexible tubing. The device helps doctors search for signs of ulcers, polyps, tumors, and areas of inflammation or bleeding.
Also attached to the device is a loop called a ‘snare’ which is used to remove the polyps once they are positively identified. A sigmoidoscopy is basically similar to colonoscopy minus the range.
Screen Early, Prevention is Your Best Bet
Early screening ensures that if you do have abnormal growths in the colon or rectum, the problem can be rectified when the cells are not yet cancerous. Not only will this save you the heartache of going through full-on therapy, it will also save you a lot of money and time.
Additionally, you and your whole family need to change to a healthier lifestyle which includes a well-balanced, moderately portioned diet from a variety of different food groups. Consumption of probiotics can also help to improve your digestive health. Cultured milk drinks, yoghurt, and fermented soy products (e.g. tempeh, miso soup) are good sources of probiotics. Finally, you need to practice regular physical activity in order to maintain your overall health, improve bowel movements and relieve constipation.
CRC, like many other types of cancers, is a silent killer often showing little to no symptoms at all. Do not let it catch you by surprise, screen now and beat it by being one step ahead.