Colon Cancer is Preventable

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Dr Saravana.KDigestive Health

Dr Saravana.K

Consultant Physician, Gastroenterologist & Hepatologist

How common is colon cancer?

The Colon is the final portion of the digestive tract, just before the anus. Colon cancer is the commonest cancer among men and the third commonest among women in Malaysia. Every year about four thousand new cases of colon cancer are diagnosed in Malaysia. Among the local ethnic groups, the Chinese appears to have the highest incidence of the disease, followed by Indians and then Malays. The incidence is even higher among the western population. It is estimated that one in twenty people will get colon cancer in their lifetime.

How does colon cancer happen?

Most colon cancers develop from precancerous polyps. Polyps are growths that arise in the lining of the colon and are visible when the bowel is examined by colonoscopy. There are two types of polyps: adenomatous polyps and hyperplastic polyps. Adenomatous polyps can become cancerous over time and this progression takes at least 10 years in most people. At age 50 about 30% of colonoscopies will detect adenomatous polyps. This adenoma detection rate continues to rise with age (45% of colonoscopies at age 70 will detect adenomatous polyps).

Colon cancer (1)How do you know if you have colon cancer?

  • No symptoms at all
  • Change in bowel habit
  • Diarrhoea, constipation
  • Blood in stool
  • Bloating, fullness, cramps
  • Constant tiredness

How can you prevent colon cancer?

Colon cancer can be prevented by doing screening tests. The most effective and widely practiced screening test is screening colonoscopy. The primary goal of screening colonoscopy is to prevent deaths from colon cancer.

Screening colonoscopy prevents the development of colorectal cancer by identifying precancerous abnormal growths (adenomatous polyps), and removing them before they become malignant.

The risk of developing colon cancer is reduced by 90% after a single screening colonoscopy done at age 50.

Even if cancer is already present, a screening colonoscopy helps identify it at an early and potentially treatable stage.

The age at which you should have the first screening colonoscope varies. An average risk person is recommended to have it done at age 50, regardless of the gender or ethnicity. The presence of risk factors and/or symptoms requires it to be done at an earlier age.

If any first degree relative has colon cancer or adenomatous polyps, then screening should be done ten years before the age of detection or at fifty years old, whichever is earlier.

How is colonoscopy performed?

Prior to the procedure, you will be asked to take a medication to clean your entire colon so that it is free of obstructing faeces. You will also be asked to avoid fruits, vegetable, red meat and certain medications for a period of time before the procedure. A sedative and a painkiller will be given intravenously just before the procedure. After you are asleep the doctor will pass a thin flexible video endoscope through your anus into your colon. This video endoscope has a light source and a camera at its tip and this allows the doctor to see the inside of the colon. During this procedure, most polyps encountered will be removed and sent for microscopy. It normally takes 20 minutes to an hour to complete the colonoscope. Almost all patients do not experience any pain during or after this procedure and should be able to go back that very same day.

For more information, call Dr Saravana’s clinic at Hospital Fatimah (05-548 7181) or email: gastrosara@gmail.com.