3 tips on preventing & surviving colorectal cancer
If colorectal cancer is detected early on, the survival rate can be high.
“Colorectal cancer is the most common cancer in Singapore, but it is also usually very treatable if detected in Stage 1, with a 95 percent five-year survival rate in Singapore,” shared Dr Ganesh Ramalingam, founder of G&L Surgical, a gastrointestinal and laparoscopic clinic in Singapore. He is currently on a mission to not only increase public awareness about colorectal cancer and obesity, he also hopes to help people solve their gastrointestinal and weight problems with his practice – regardless of their ability to pay the regular medical fees.
He added, “What it is that is lacking in Singapore is the awareness that colorectal cancer is one type of cancer that may be prevented by making proper lifestyle choices – such as maintaining a healthy weight, eating the right foods and keeping active. What I hope to achieve is to help people realise that they can do a lot more than they thought, in preventing and treating this common cancer.”
Here are three of his tips:
1. Your weight matters more than you think – Obese individuals are about 30 percent more likely to develop this cancer than people of a healthy weight. Obesity is already the main culprit for diabetes and heart disease, so it may be no surprise to find out that it also increases the risks of developing colorectal cancer among others.
2. Your diet and lifestyle make a big difference – Eating the right foods may help reduce your lifetime risks of developing colorectal cancer and will also help keep your weight in the healthy range – thereby doubly reducing your colorectal cancer risks. People who eat a lot of processed and red meats are at a greater risk – the cancer risk for such dietary habits increases by about 20 percent for every 50g of processed meat and 100g of red meat consumed per day.
Other than reducing red and processed meat portions, eating more wholegrains, fruits and vegetables help reduce the chances of developing colorectal cancer – especially food rich in fibre and Vitamin C. Drinking coffee is also associated with a lower likelihood of colorectal cancer, as may increasing your intake of dairy products and calcium supplements.
Numerous studies have shown that there is a strong link between keeping physically active and reducing the incidence as well as increasing the survivability of colorectal cancer. Significantly, in a massive pooled study involving 1.4 million people who were a part of a dozen US and European studies over a time period of 11 years that was published by the American Institute for Cancer Research in May 2016, it was found that people who brisk walked more than seven hours a week or jogged 2.5 hours a week were 20 percent less likely to develop colorectal cancer as compared to those who only brisk walked for 20 minutes a week. Dr Ramalingam said that for him, the key takeaway from all these figures would simply be that daily exercise of at least 60 minutes will be beneficial to reducing your chances of developing colorectal cancer, among a few others.
3. Early detection will most probably save your life – Colorectal cancer has one of the highest survivability rate if detected early, in Stage 1. As the most common cancer affecting people above the age of 50, it is recommended that you screen for this cancer every two years, even if you don’t have any symptoms. Some common symptoms that are early warning signs of colorectal cancer are:
- Changes in bowel habits such as diarrhoea or constipation that lasts for more than a week.
- Rectal bleeding with fresh red blood.
- Blood in stools.
- A constant urge to have a bowel movement even after having one.
- Unexplained abdominal cramping.
- Weight loss.
Some of the screening options available for you are:
- Fecal blood test.
- Detailed X-rays.
Out of all these, colonoscopy is the most accurate and will yield the most detailed results as the procedure allows for a close examination of the large intestine, rectum and anus using a special flexible camera. Polyps that are detected can also be removed in the same procedure, which is very helpful in preventing colorectal cancer as many cases of the cancer develops from colon or rectal polyps. The polyps that are removed as well as a sample of the tissue extracted will then be sent for biopsy to determine if they are benign or malignant. The colonoscopy procedure is painless and can be done as a day surgery. The patient will be sedated for the procedure, which usually lasts between 30 minutes to one hour.