Myths and Facts on Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is the most common cancer in Singapore with more than 2000 cases diagnosed annually. Here, we will address common misconceptions about colorectal cancer, so that people can be better aware of the disease.

Colon/Colorectal Cancer Myths and Facts

The development of colon cancer occurs when polyps form within the large intestine and the rectum, and become malignant over time.

Myth 1

: There is nothing I can do about getting colorectal cancer.

Early detection and removal of abnormal growths (polyps), even at the precancerous stage, is possible by undergoing regular screenings with a colonoscopy.

Myth 2

: Colorectal cancer is fatal and few patients survive from this disease.

Even though colorectal cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Singapore, the prognosis has improved over the years due to increased awareness and improved screening and treatment options. The survival rate for this cancer is more than 90% when detected early.

Myth 3

: Only people with a family history of colon cancer get it.

Approximately 75% of all new cases of colon cancer are diagnosed in individuals with no significant family history. When you have a family history, screening may need to begin earlier or be performed more frequently, and genetic testing may be necessary as an additional measure.

Myth 4

: Colorectal cancer is a man’s disease.

Although colorectal cancer is slightly more prevalent in men, more than 1000 women are diagnosed with the disease yearly in Singapore. In fact, colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in both men and women in Singapore.

Myth 5

: There is no cure for colorectal cancer.

When detected early, colorectal cancer is curable. The type of treatment depends on the extent and stage of the cancer, the patient's overall health, and other factors. The most common treatments include colorectal cancer surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

Colonoscopy Procedure Myths & Facts

Colonoscopy is a procedure that helps identify abnormalities inside of the colon and rectum using a flexible, long, thin instrument with a camera and light attached, called a colonoscope.

Myth 1

: Screening is only necessary for people who are symptomatic.

Screening refers to performing a test when one is asymptomatic. Colorectal cancer screening is recommended for all individuals when they reach 50 years old. In America, the recommended screening age has been lowered to 45 years old as there is a worldwide increase in diagnosis of colorectal cancer in younger individuals. This is because colorectal cancer often develops without noticeable symptoms during its early stages, and increasing age is an important risk factor. Individuals with a family history of colorectal cancer, colon polyps, or inflammatory bowel disease and those experiencing symptoms such as rectal bleeding, change in bowel habits, abdominal bloating or unexplained loss of weight should see a doctor to understand if a colonoscopy is recommended.

Myth 2

: Colonoscopy is the only way to screen.

A colonoscopy is not the only method of screening for colorectal cancer. Other screening options include, faecal occult blood test (FOBT), barium enema, and CT colonography or virtual colonoscopy. However, colonoscopy is the most accurate method. In addition, it also allows removal of polyps which may be precancerous and biopsy of suspected cancers, which all the other methods are unable to do.

Myth 3

: Colonoscopy is a painful and a difficult procedure to undergo.

The colonoscopy procedure is not painful or difficult. During the procedure, the patient will be sedated and will not be aware of the procedure. The procedure takes approximately 30 minutes and no overnight stay in hospital is required. After the colonoscopy, patients may experience slight bloating which disappears soon after.

Myth 4

: Having a colon or rectal polyp means I have cancer and need surgery.

While some polyps can become cancerous over time, most are benign growths (non-cancerous) and can be removed through the colonoscope . Regular screenings with colonoscopy is crucial to detect and remove any polyps at an early stage and prevent cancer from developing.