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Colorectal cancer is the most common cancer among Malaysian men. And while over 80% of cases involve those 50 years and older, colorectal cancer rates among younger men have been increasing yearly.

What’s even worrying is that most colorectal cancer cases are detected either in stage 3 or stage 4. 

“Unfortunately, one factor contributing to the increase in colorectal cancer cases is the lack of awareness of the disease,” said Dr Luqman Mazlan, Consultant General and Colorectal Surgeon at Beacon Hospital. 

Understanding this very treatable disease is the first step in raising awareness. Continue reading to learn more about colorectal cancer.

What is Colorectal Cancer?

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Colorectal cancer is cancer that starts in the colon or the rectum. It is also referred to as either colon cancer or rectal cancer, depending on the cancer’s origin. 

Signs and Symptoms

Common signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer include:

  • Persistent changes in bowel habits of more than 2 weeks.
  • Rectal bleeding or presence of blood in stool.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Intestinal obstruction or feeling as if the bowel does not empty completely.
  • Persistent abdominal discomfort.

These symptoms are usually not present in early stages of colorectal cancer. In fact, many people with this disease in the early stages experience no symptoms at all. 

Diagnosing Colorectal Cancer

While it is not the only cause, precancerous polyps in the colon or rectum are almost always the cause of colon or rectum cancer. Because of this, regular screenings, especially after 45, are essential for preventing and finding cancer in its earliest stages.

Among the screenings available for colorectal cancer are:

“While there are choices available for screening colorectal cancer, colonoscopy is the best screening method. Polyps can easily be detected and removed for biopsy,” Dr Luqman said.

Dr Luqman also added that once cancer has been confirmed by the biopsy, a CT scan will be done to stage the cancer.

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Staging

From the CT scan, doctors are able to determine how extensive the cancer is through staging. 

Like other cancers, the stage of colorectal cancer depends on the size of the tumour, and whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and/or other organs.

“Unfortunately in Malaysia, there is no screening program in place to increase screening rates. Sadly, most colorectal cancer in Malaysia is detected at stage 3 or stage 4,” Dr Luqman added.

Treatment

Determining the stage of the cancer is crucial in deciding the most effective treatment. 

Among the treatments for colorectal cancer include:

  • Endoscopic treatment – a non-surgical procedure where polyps are removed during colonoscopy.
  • Surgery – The primary treatment for colorectal cancer where cancer tissues are removed through open surgery or keyhole surgery. 
  • Chemotherapy – Generally, only given for stage 3 and stage 4 cases. It is given after the surgery as an adjuvant therapy. 

Colorectal cancer is a very treatable cancer if detected early. With a 98.6% 5-year survival rate for stage 1 cancer, regular screening really does save lives.

Schedule a colonoscopy at Beacon Hospital now, and detect colorectal cancer before its too late!

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