Debunked: 5 Myths on Colorectal Cancer

Contributed by: Dr Zee Ying Kiat

There are many common misconceptions surrounding colorectal cancer, but it is time to set the records straight, shares Dr Zee Ying Kiat, Senior Consultant, Medical Oncology. Here are 5 common myths on colorectal cancer, debunked:

MYTH #1: Colorectal cancer is a man’s disease

It is a common misconception that colorectal cancer only affects men.

However, the reality is that colorectal cancer is not specific to men, and can affect women as well. In fact, it is the second most common cancer diagnosed, and the second most common cause of cancer death in Singaporean women1.

MYTH #2: Age does not matter when it comes to colorectal cancer

The risk of colorectal cancer increases as you get older—so age does matter when it comes to the disease. The majority of colorectal cancer cases in Singapore and around the world are diagnosed in both men and women aged 50 years old and above.

If you have a family history of colorectal or rectum cancer, you may be at a higher risk of developing the disease.

The below risk factors may also increase your risk of colorectal cancer:

  • A previous history of colon polyps
  • A history of ulcerative colitis (ulcers in the lining of the large intestine)
  • A history of Crohn’s disease
  • Smoking
  • A diet high in fats and low in fruits and vegetables

Knowing your risk factors and discussing them with your doctor may help you make more informed lifestyle and healthcare choices that may help reduce your risk of disease.

MYTH #3: Colorectal cancer is an unpreventable disease

Colorectal cancer is highly preventable with regular cancer screening. As colorectal cancer typically develops from precancerous polyps (growths on the lining of the colon and rectum), appropriate screening can help  detect and remove these polyps before they turn into cancer.

Average-risk individuals (i.e. individuals who are asymptomatic and individuals with no family history of colorectal cancer) should begin screening for colorectal cancer at age 50.

Eligible individuals are recommended to undergo a Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT)—a test to detect blood in the stool, a common possible sign of pre-colorectal cancer—annually. A colonoscopy—a scope inserted into the anus to detect cancer and remove polyps, which if left unchecked, may become cancerous—should also be carried out once every 10 years.

Individuals can also reduce their risk of disease by adopting healthy lifestyle habits such as:

  • Maintaining a balanced diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Maintaining a healthy BMI
  • Smoking cessation
  • Drinking alcohol in moderation

MYTH #4: Screening is only necessary in individuals with a family history of colorectal cancer

Screening is typically carried out to detect cancer or precancerous conditions in a person with no symptoms.

As colorectal cancer usually does not show symptoms at the early stage, it is important to undergo recommended screenings to detect the cancer, whether or not you have a family history of the disease.

MYTH #5: Colorectal cancer is an untreatable disease

As with many cancers, colorectal cancer is a treatable disease when detected early. Over 90% of patients with early stage colorectal cancer survive five years after diagnosis2.

Unfortunately, only around a third of all colorectal cancer cases are diagnosed at an early stage. Undergoing regular screening is therefore important as it can help detect the disease at an early stage, and subsequently increase the chances of treating it.

If you are concerned about colorectal cancer, or if you have a strong family history of colorectal cancer, speak to your doctor. They can recommend the appropriate next steps to take depending on whether you are at an average or high risk of developing the disease.

1 Singapore Cancer Registry Annual Report 2019

2 American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons

POSTED IN Cancer Prevention, Cancer Treatments
TAGS cancer screening, cancerous polyps, colorectal cancer, common cancer, FOBT (faecal occult blood test), history of cancer
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