Colorectal cancer is among the world’s most common cancers, with almost two million cases diagnosed each year. Fortunately, it is also one of the most preventable cancers with the help of colonoscopy screening, explains DR AARON POH, a general surgery specialist with subspecialties in colorectal and trauma surgery. Colonoscopy screening is among the most important routine screenings for adults, as it can detect the illness in its early stages when there are no colorectal cancer symptoms. At Alpine Surgical Practice, he provides a comprehensive range of screenings and treatments for general surgical and abdominal issues.
If detected early on, colorectal cancer is curable, with a five-year survival rate of 80 to 90 percent.
What to expect with colonoscopy screening
Done under sedation, a colonoscopy is an outpatient procedure that takes roughly 30 minutes, with a short recovery time while the sedative wears off before going home the same day.
A thin, flexible tube with a fibre optic camera is inserted into the rectum, allowing for visualisation of the digestive tract. This makes it possible to detect any polyps, tumours, vascular malformations and structural abnormalities lining your gut.
Colonoscopy also allows for the immediate removal of benign and potentially pre-cancerous polyps for biopsy – a key advantage to the screening method. “The removal of polyps, in turn, prevents them from developing further into colorectal cancer,” says Dr Poh.
Of course, prepping for a colonoscopy certainly won’t be your most fabulous time of the year. (It involves drinking a special cleansing liquid to empty the bowels prior to the exam, and avoiding certain foods in the days leading up to the screening.) But is it worth doing to save your life? You bet!
When to get screened for colorectal cancer
“Your doctor may recommend a colonoscopy if you show colorectal cancer symptoms, such as blood in your stool, unexplained abdominal pain or changes in your bowel movement habits,” says Dr Poh.
But, for preventative screening, he recommends that adults go for colonoscopy every five years from age 50. However, those at higher risk should consider earlier screening, in their late 30s or 40s. Such risk factors include:
- a first-degree relative (parents or siblings) with colorectal cancer;
- a family history of colorectal cancer syndromes like familial adenomatous polyposis or HNPCC;
- diagnosis of inflammatory bowel disease (IBS); and
- a personal history of having certain cancers or polyps.
Individuals may also be considered higher risk if they smoke, consume a high-fat diet, are overweight, have type 2 diabetes or have family history of inflammatory bowel diseases.
Being “inconvenienced” with a colonoscopy once every five years can save your life. That’s why Dr Poh recommends talking to your doctor about colonoscopy screening to determine what’s right for you.
This article first appeared in the July 2023 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe, so you never miss a copy!
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