From the latest statistics released in 2018, it was found that cancer is the 2nd biggest killer worldwide and the 3rd in new cases found*.
Additionally, it is estimated that more than 3,000 deaths per year resulting from colon cancer are not officially reported, with those over the age of 45 and those under the age of 45 with a family history of colon cancer especially at risk.
The trend clearly suggests that if Thai people do not undergo colon cancer screening in greater numbers, aforementioned cancer rates could be doubling over the next decade.
These numbers and statistics may come as a shock to many of you, but this form of cancer can be identified early on through a colonoscopy. Where a pre-cancerous polyp is found, it can be removed in up to 90% of cases. Alternatively, in cases of early stage colon cancer, treatment is available that can provide a cure for the disease.
Colon cancer tends to arise from adenomatous polyps and, while the reason behind their occurrence still remains unclear, they are usually found to affect people over the age of 45. As these types of polyps have the potential to develop into colon cancer, doctors recommend that people should undergo regular screening for colon cancer. Where the aforementioned polyps are identified, they can be removed before they can develop into cancer. Alternatively, where those polyps already represent cancer in its initial stages, treatment can be provided before the cancer can spread to other organs, which is seen as another effective form of protection against colon cancer.
Many forms of cancer develop with no clear cause. Colon cancer is no different in this regard, although there are certain risk factors as follows:
Early stage colon cancer tends not to display any symptoms. Patients often neglect the proper care of their colon and digestive system. That being said, if you experience any of the following irregular symptoms, please consult your doctor in order to undergo a thorough diagnosis: alternating between constipation and diarrhea or chronic constipation, reduction in stool size, bloody stools, sudden and undiagnosed loss of weight, nausea, exhaustion or feeling overly tired.
Colon cancer patients often do not experience any symptoms whatsoever during the disease’s early stages, while the symptoms that are displayed can differ greatly from case to case, depending on the size and location of the cancer within the colon. Therefore, where any one or more of these warning signs are identified, especially in those who are categorized as being high risk, a consultation with a doctor should be made immediately in order to undergo colon cancer screening.
Colon cancer screening, especially for at-risk patients, should be carried out from the age of 45 onwards, in line with the 2018 recommendations of the American Cancer Society. For patients with a family history of colon cancer, however, screening may need to begin earlier.
Screening for colon cancer during its initial stages is the most effective way to prevent or halt the disease. Doctors recommend that the following forms of screening should be carried out from the age of 45 upwards, regardless of gender:
If a patient’s cancer is in the 1st stage, doctors will usually perform surgery to remove the cancerous tissue. However, if the cancer is in its 2nd or 3rd stages, with a higher chance of making a return, chemotherapy medication and radiation therapy will also be considered, both of which can be undertaken either pre- or post-surgery.
In addition to surgical removal of the cancer and radiation therapy, patients whose cancer is in the 4th stage may be required to undergo supplementary courses of chemotherapy. Furthermore, where the cancer has spread to the surrounding organs, doctors will need to give careful consideration to how they will treat those organs on a case-by-case basis.
We have seen that although the true causes of colon cancer remain unknown, the disease can affect any of us. That being said, the risk factors mentioned above are the result of a person’s lifestyle. Therefore, the most effective form of prevention is to make suitable modifications to our diet and lifestyle habits. This means avoiding foods that are high in fat, increasing the amount of fiber we consume, drinking plenty of water and not forgetting to exercise regularly, as well as training ourselves to excrete properly in order to prevent constipation.
Moreover, people over the age of 45 or those with a heightened genetic risk of colon cancer should undergo annual screening assessments, including an FOBT, which has been proven to lower the rates of colon cancer fatalities, while colonoscopy examinations should be carried out every 10 years. All of these steps can help protect against colon cancer, or successfully treat the disease where it is identified in its initial stages.
Faculty of Medicine Siriraj Hospital, Mahidol University , 2009