How to prevent the No.1 cancer

Professor Eu Kong Weng, Medical Director of Colorectal Surgeons, gives advice on how your diet, lifestyle and exercise habits can play a part in reducing your risks of getting colorectal cancer.


Colorectal cancer (colon cancer), otherwise known as cancer of the large intestine, affects the colon, rectum and anus.

The rectum is a very small area and the distance between the rectum and surrounding normal organs is quite short. Hence, if rectal cancer occurs, the chance of spread to neighbouring organs is extremely high.

Colon cancer is the most common cancer in Singapore affecting both males and females, with nearly 10,000 cases diagnosed locally in the last four years. The cancer affects mostly middle-aged people from 60 to 90 years of age. However, if you have a family history of colon cancer, your risk is significantly higher.

Irregular bowel movements, persistent diarrhoea or constipation, blood in stools or persistent abdominal discomfort or pain should also be brought to your doctor’s attention.

Go for a scope
Rectal examinations are quick, and can be done in outpatient clinics and cause minimal discomfort. A doctor inserts his or her finger into the rectum. However, this only allows a scan for cancer in the last 5-8 cm of the rectum.

If the cancer is located further up the large intestine, a colonoscopy would be the best method of detection. This uses fibre-optic flexible tubes that are inserted into the rectum and up into the colon. Through the scopes, the doctor can remove any abnormal tissues (such as polyps) in the colon to test for cancer.

Colonoscopies are usually performed under sedation and takes about 20 to 30 minutes to perform.

If malignant polyps or cancers are detected, the doctor will recommend surgery to remove the abnormalities within the colon, so as to prevent the spread of the cancer.

Regular screening is important, as colon cancer does not become obvious until the advanced stages.

Surgery is usually recommended for Stages 1 to 3 and typically involves the removal of a section of the large intestine and reconnecting it with the remaining portion of the organ. Survival rate after surgery for early stages of colon cancer can be as high as 80 to 90 per cent.


Your colon is what you eat
What you eat can affect the health of your intestines.

A balanced diet of carbohydrates, proteins, fat and fibre will promote excellent gut health. As a general guide, reduce your fat intake and increase your fibre intake and you will reduce your chances of colon cancer. The trick is to eat everything in moderation.

How you cook your meat and fibre is also important. Barbecued meats with burnt bits contain carcinogens that are bad for your intestines. Likewise, foods that are fried and smoked are also considered unhealthy due to the chemicals that are formed when meats are cooked at high temperatures.

A high consumption of alcohol is also detrimental to colon health, although the occasional glass of red wine may be beneficial. As a guide, one to two glasses of alcohol a day (one for women, two for men) is acceptable.


Get active
Obesity, coupled with a lack of exercise, greatly increases one’s risk of colon cancer.

Exercise helps to keep the body fitter and stronger and better able to combat diseases, thus helping to keep cancer at bay.

To decrease your risk of colorectal cancer, exercise more and keep good dietary habits.


Do not smoke
Smoking leads to all sorts of cancer, and it definitely increases your risk of colon cancer if you do not have proper dietary habits and an exercise regime. Avoid smoking or try to quit if you do.


Go for treatment
There are plenty of treatment options for colon cancer.

Advances in surgery now allow for smaller incisions and shorter periods of convalescence. Surgery options such as snare polypectomy, laparoscopic surgery and the use of Da Vinci robots can give patients a quicker postoperative recovery.


By Charmaine Ng


This article is based on a presentation given by Professor Eu Kong Weng at an AIA event in June.


Singapore’s most common cancer

  • Nearly 10,000 cases were diagnosed in the past four years.
  • Affects mostly those 60 to 90 years old.
  • Risk is higher if you have a family history of colon cancer.


Symptoms to look out for:

  • Change in bowel habits
  • Blood in the stool
  • Persistent abdominal discomfort or pain
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue and weakness         
POSTED IN Cancer Prevention
TAGS cancerous polyps, carcinogen, colonoscopy, common cancer, dr eu kong weng, prevent cancer
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