Colon cancer is the second most common cancer in Malaysia, with an estimated 2,400 new cases diagnosed each year. While it can be a life-threatening disease, colon cancer is highly treatable when detected early. In this blog post, we will take a closer look at colon cancer in Malaysia and what can be done to prevent and treat it.
What is Colon Cancer?
Colon cancer is a type of cancer that develops in the lining of the large intestine or rectum. It usually begins as small, non-cancerous polyps, which can turn into cancer over time if left untreated. The exact cause of colon cancer is unknown, but it is believed to be linked to several factors, including age, genetics, lifestyle, and diet.
Symptoms of Colon Cancer
The symptoms of colon cancer can vary from person to person, and some people may not experience any symptoms at all. However, some common signs and symptoms of colon cancer include:
It is important to note that these symptoms can also be caused by other conditions, so it is essential to consult a healthcare professional if you experience any of these symptoms.
What are the risk factors of developing colorectal (colon) cancer?
There are several risk factors that can increase a person’s likelihood of developing colorectal (colon) cancer. Some of the most significant risk factors include:
- Age :Colorectal cancer is more common in people over the age of 50, and the risk increases with age.
- Family history: People with a family history of colorectal cancer or certain inherited genetic conditions, such as Lynch syndrome or familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), are at higher risk.
- Personal history: People who have had colorectal cancer or certain types of polyps in the past are at higher risk of developing the disease again.
- Inflammatory bowel disease: People with chronic inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, have an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer.
- Lifestyle factors: Several lifestyle factors can increase the risk of colorectal cancer, including a diet that is high in red and processed meats, a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, and heavy alcohol consumption.
- Diabetes: People with type 2 diabetes have an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer.
It is essential to note that having one or more of these risk factors does not mean that a person will develop colorectal cancer. However, it is important to be aware of these risk factors and to speak with a healthcare professional about screening and prevention strategies if necessary.
How do doctors diagnose colorectal (colon) cancer?
Common diagnostic tools include:
- Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT)
- Blood tests: Complete blood count, tumour markers and liver enzymes
- Imaging tests: Computed tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, positron emission tomography (PET) scan.
The treatment of colon cancer depends on several factors, including the stage and location of the cancer, as well as the individual’s overall health and medical history. Here are some common treatment options for colon cancer:
- Surgery: Surgery is the most common treatment for colon cancer. The goal of surgery is to remove the cancerous tumor and any surrounding tissue that may contain cancer cells. In some cases, a portion of the colon may need to be removed, while in other cases, a more extensive surgery may be required.
- Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays or other forms of radiation to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy may be used in combination with surgery and/or chemotherapy to treat colon cancer.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy involves the use of medications to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy is often used in combination with surgery, either before or after the surgery, to help shrink the tumor and prevent the cancer from returning.
- Targeted therapy: Targeted therapy uses medications that specifically target the cancer cells and their unique characteristics. Targeted therapy may be used in combination with chemotherapy for certain types of colon cancer.
Following are some commonly deployed treatment lines based on the stage of cancer:
- Stage 0: Surgery to remove the tumour growth.
- Stage 1: Surgery to remove the cancerous growth.
- Stage 2: Surgery is done to remove the cancerous growth followed by chemotherapy. This is required only in cases where cancer is suspected to be a high grade or if the patient has other health conditions.
- Stage 3: Surgical removal of tumour and affected lymph nodes followed by chemotherapy. For some patients, radiation therapy may also be suggested.
- Stage 4: Treatments could be a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and sometimes radiation therapy. Doctors may also recommend targeted therapy for some patients.
In addition to these treatments, supportive care may be necessary to manage symptoms and side effects, such as pain, fatigue, and nausea. It is important to work closely with a healthcare team to develop an individualized treatment plan for colon cancer that takes into account the individual’s specific needs and preferences.
What can I do to reduce the risk of developing colorectal (colon) cancer?
While the exact cause of colon cancer is unknown, there are several things you can do to reduce your risk of developing the disease. These include:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Eating a healthy diet that is high in fiber and low in red and processed meats
- Exercising regularly
- Not smoking
- Limiting alcohol consumption
- Getting screened for colon cancer regularly
Colon cancer is a significant health concern in Malaysia, with thousands of new cases diagnosed each year. While it can be a life-threatening disease, colon cancer is highly treatable when detected early. By being aware of the symptoms and risk factors of colon cancer and getting screened regularly, you can take steps to reduce your risk of developing the disease and increase your chances of successful treatment. If you have any concerns about colon cancer, it is essential to speak with your healthcare professional.