5 easily ignored symptoms of colorectal cancer

by | Aug 31, 2021 | General Surgery, Colon & Intestines, Colorectal

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Colorectal cancer symptoms. In Singapore, colorectal cancer is the number one cancer affecting men, and second only to breast cancer for women. Thus, risk management, as well as early detection and treatment, is often advised for better outcomes.

Although colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer worldwide, incidences in Singapore have been steadily going up over the last three decades so that is now the most common type of cancer in Singapore.

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Colorectal cancer screening, your best line of defence

Colorectal cancer can be tricky to catch as more than half of the people who get it may have no symptoms.

Most colorectal cancer patients are older than 45 years of age, though patients with a family history of colorectal cancer or polyps may get it at a younger age. Factors like consumption of red meats; obesity and a sedentary lifestyle, smoking and excessive alcohol use are other contributing factors. Unfortunately, lifestyle modification is not only difficult but has little impact on risk reduction.

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Unfortunately symptoms like a change in bowel habits, abdominal pain or fatigue often only manifest at a late stage. Thus, regular screening is recommended, especially if you have a family history of colorectal cancer or polyps. Younger patients are not exempt as one in 10 colorectal cancer patients is under the age of 50.

Routine screening for individuals without risk factors is advised for those above 50 though individuals in the “Very High Risk” category with a family history may need to start screening while in their teens.

Colorectal cancer is easier to treat when found early, and screening allows removal of pre-cancerous polyps so that cancer is prevented. Screening can be done by colonoscopy or faecal occult blood tests (FOBT), and have been linked to a 33 per cent reduction in colorectal cancer mortality. Alternative methods are sigmoidoscopy, barium enema and CT colonography.

Screening helps to catch signs of colorectal cancer before the condition progresses. Image source: The Straits Times

Be on the lookout for these signs of colorectal cancer

Between cancer screenings, it’s important to watch for these symptoms that often go ignored:

  • Changes in bowel habits
    Change in the frequency of stools, like constipation or diarrhoea. Further, you should pay attention if you pass narrow calibre stools, or altered blood and mucus which can give the stool a cranberry appearance. These symptoms should be checked out by a doctor and it’s important not to write these signs off as piles.
  • Your bowels always feel full
    If you feel like you cannot completely clear the stool, it is a symptom called tenesmus.
  • Abdominal discomfort
    Cramps, bloating, gas and pain may be present and persistent.
  • Weakness or fatigue
    If you feel tired all the time it may be a sign of anaemia – especially if you feel dizzy, short of breath and experience heart palpitations.
  • Unintended weight loss
    You may notice also experience loss in appetite, nausea and unexplained weight loss.

While the above symptoms could arise from less serious bowel conditions such as gallstones, ulcers and haemorrhoids, it is best to seek a medical opinion.

This article has been verified medically by Dr Denis Cheong, colorectal surgery specialist of Surgi-TEN Specialists at Farrer Park Hospital (Singapore).

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