Colorectal cancer is one of the most frequent cancers in Singapore in both men and women. In Singapore, it has been reported that approximately one in every twenty persons is at risk of developing colorectal cancer, with approximately 1500 new cases identified each year. To help you learn more about colorectal cancer in Singapore, here are some key details about this type of cancer and how it is managed in the the country:

  • What is colorectal cancer?

Colorectal cancer is the medical term used to collectively describe colon and rectal cancers. As the names imply, colon cancer develops in the colon and rectal cancer develops in the rectum. The colon and rectum make-up the large intestines of the body. Due to their many similarities, rectal cancer and colon cancer are sometimes classified together as colorectal cancer.

Almost all colorectal cancers start as growths on the rectum or colon’s inner lining known as polyps. Even though not all polyps turn into cancer, some do over the course of many years. The type of polyp will determine if it has a chance of developing into cancer. Additional factors that increase the risk of polyps to turn into cancer are polyp size larger than 1 centimeter, existence of more than 3 polyps, and when polyps are removed, dysplasia, another precancerous condition is found that suggests that some cells exhibit abnormal behavior but have not yet transformed into cancer in an area in a polyp, colon lining or rectum. When a polyp develops into cancer, it will eventually spread in the colon or rectum as well as to other parts of the body such as blood vessels or the lymph vessels, etc.

  • Who is at risk of developing colorectal cancer in Singapore?

People who are overweight, smoke, drink alcohol frequently, eat a high-fat diet, do not exercise and follow an unhealthy lifestyle are all more likely to acquire colorectal cancer. Diabetes type 2 is also a risk factor. Colorectal cancer is increasingly prevalent in males and women over the age of 50. Having someone in the family with a history of colorectal cancer will also increase your risk of developing the same cancer.

In recent years, reports indicate a rise in the obesity rate, data of people who consume more calories than is advised, and reports of frequent excessive drinking and smoking in Singapore, all of which can increase the risk of colorectal cancer in Singaporeans.

  • What are the common symptoms of colorectal cancer?

Although there may be some early warning signals, colorectal cancer symptoms may be minimal or nonexistent in the early stages of the disease and may not appear until stage 2 or later. Here are  the common early warning signs of colorectal cancer to look-out for:

  • Bleeding from the bottom or rectal bleeding in dark or bright red
  • Stools that are narrow (as thin as a pencil) or small
  • Experiencing tenesmus characterized by the urge to pass stool and the accompanying pain, cramps, and strain where there is no or little stool passed despite straining.
  • Abdominal that is persistent
  • Losing with no apparent reason
  • Anemia due to being iron deficient
  • A change in bowel habits, such as constipation or diarrhea
  • Consistent cramping, gas, or pain in the abdomen

It should be understood that symptoms may also be caused by other diseases or medical conditions and proper medical diagnosis should be sought to determine the cause and apply the appropriate treatment.

  • How is colorectal cancer diagnosed?

The Singaporean health sector recommends getting routine screening for colorectal cancer, especially for those at risk of developing the disease so that the cancer is detected during the early stages and treatment is given early, giving a higher chance of recovery. A colonoscopy is the most typical test performed to identify colorectal cancer. An endoscope is a specialized tool that the doctor uses during a colonoscopy to inspect the inside of the colon and rectum. The flexible, tube-shaped endoscope has a light and lens at the end. Some variations of endoscopes are designed to enable the doctor to obtain samples or administer some treatment while performing the colonoscopy.

Another test for colorectal cancer is the Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT). FIT will look for concealed blood in the stool, which may be a precursor to colorectal cancer. The test is easy to do in the convenience of your own home and comes in a straightforward kit. For screening purposes, FIT can be done annually.

Some other tests will be performed such as blood tests, ultrasound, etc. when deemed necessary to be able to correctly diagnose the patient’s health condition. In addition to the medical tests, your doctor will also look for general health indicators as well as disease indicators, such as lumps or anything else that seems out of the ordinary through a physical check-up.

  • How is colorectal cancer treated in Singapore?

Prior to any treatment, the doctor will first establish the stage of the cancer to be able to plan out the appropriate treatment. Here the common modes of treatments for colorectal cancer in Singapore:

  • Surgery-the main treatment for colorectal cancer in its early stages with a main goal to completely remove all cancerous tissue from the colon, rectum, surrounding tissue, and mesenteric lymph nodes.
  • Laparoscopic Colon Surgery (Keyhole Surgery)-a low-risk method used to treat colorectal cancer with less pain and a quicker post-operative recovery as its benefits; The execution of the treatment, however, is technically challenging, time-consuming, and expensive and may not be the best option for some patients.
  • Chemotherapy-makes use of toxic drugs to kill cancer cells still present even after a surgical procedure; Chemotherapy is recommended for individuals with stage II, stage III, or stage IV advanced colorectal cancer to increase survival rates.
  • Radiotherapy – utilizes powerful radioactive rays to treat cancer; specially used after surgery of colorectal cancer that has spread to neighboring organs or lymph nodes to kill any cancer that may be left on the affected body parts/organs; also used in the pre-surgical phase to shrink the size of the cancer (mostly in advanced rectal cancers) before surgical removal.

It should be mentioned that the individual’s current health status will affect how well they respond to treatment for any disease, especially for cancer, so finding the right medical help is essential. Fortunately, Singapore offers a large number of specialists in many different medical specialties to address many health issues.

Alpine Surgical Practice

3 Mount Elizabeth #17-16

Singapore 228510

+65 6589 8927