SILENT AND DEADLY
“Colon cancer often goes unnoticed in the early stages, and understandably so, with little or no known symptoms.”
DR GANESH RAMALINGAM
Consultant surgeon, specialising in gastrointestinal,
bariatric, advanced laparoscopic and endoscopic surgery
Years in practice 20
VIGILANCE REQUIRED AFTER 50 YEARS OF AGE TO DETECT THIS LEADING CAUSE OF CANCER IN MEN.

What is the most serious illness in your area of medicine?

Colon cancer is the leading cause of cancer for men in Singapore. For women, it’s the second most common type after that of breast. It not only takes a toll on the sufferer’s health, but there are also concerns about undergoing treatments. The patient suffers from overwhelming emotions while having to juggle family commitments, holding their jobs and even engaging in daily activities.

When does it strike?

It can occur among the youth and young adults, but the majority – as high as 90 per cent – of these cases occur in people aged 50 and above. The average age of a person being diagnosed with this cancer is 64.

What are the early signs?

Colon cancer often goes unnoticed in the early stages, and understandably so, with little or no known symptoms. Thus, it is recommended that people with an average risk – that is, when genetic factors are not involved – should begin screening at age 40. Tests such as colonoscopy should be done every five years. Others include Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT), Double Contrast Barium Enema (DCBE) and Stool DNA tests.

One can take active steps to prevent colon cancer by adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle. Eating a variety of fruit and vegetables, as well as whole grains, would be beneficial as these “super foods” contain fibre, minerals, vitamins and antioxidants that help to prevent colon cancer.

Quit smoking and limit alcohol intake to one glass a day for women and two for men. Exercise at least half an hour three to five times a week and maintain a healthy BMI.

What are the effects?

In later stages, common symptoms include a change in bowel habits including constipation and diarrhoea that last for more than a few days, blood in the stools, abdominal discomfort such as gas, cramps and pain. A sense of fatigue or weakness, unintended weight loss and anaemia can also signal colon cancer. If one or more of these symptoms persists, consult your doctor immediately.

How is it treated?

In general, surgery is used to treat Stages 0, 1, 2 and 3 of the cancer. During laparoscopic surgery, the tumour and part of the healthy colon or rectum and nearby lymph nodes will be removed. Many Stage 2 and 3 colorectal-cancer patients also receive chemotherapy, and those with rectal cancer receive both chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Chemotherapy uses drugs to destroy cancer cells so they are unable to grow and divide. Radiotherapy involves the use of high energy X-rays to destroy tumour cancer cells. These help to further eliminate cancer after surgery.

Stage 4 is not curable but treatable. The symptoms can be managed and the growth of tumour slowed, using a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

For more information, visit G&L Surgical Clinic, #05-23, 38 Irrawaddy Road. Tel: 6255-1234.