Be honest for a sec: How often do you look in the toilet after you go to the bathroom? If your answer is “never,” it might be time to start.

Colorectal cancer - a.k.a. cancers of the colon and rectum – are the third most common cancers in both males and females in South Africa occurring mostly in the age group 50 to 70 years.

7 out of 10 people diagnosed with colorectal have no symptoms. Also, it is commonly misdiagnosed as haemorrhoids and/or irritable bowel syndrome. Could this be a silent killer?

How does it start?

Virtually all colon cancers begin as small benign non-cancerous growths called polyps which progress slowly over years (10 to 15 years) to become larger and invasive cancers. As with most cancers, symptoms frequently develop too late for effective treatment and cure – yet, if diagnosed in its early stages, colon cancer is highly curable.

Are you at risk?

The exact cause of colorectal cancer is not known, but certain risk factors are strongly linked to the disease including diet, tobacco smoking, and heavy alcohol use. Also, people with a family history of colorectal cancer have a higher risk of developing the disease.

What are the possible warning signs?

  • Bleeding from your rectum.
  • Blood in your stool.
  • Change in the shape of your stool.
  • Change in your bowel habits. Either constipation or diarrhea.
  • Cramping pain in your lower stomach.
  • Unintentional weight loss.

Treatment and prognosis

Treatment depends on how far the cancer has advanced. It may include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or a combination of these therapies.

For colon cancer, the overall 5-year survival rate is 63%. If the cancer is diagnosed at a localized stage, the survival rate is 90%. If the cancer has spread to surrounding tissues or organs and/or the regional lymph nodes, the 5-year survival rate is 71%.

Can colorectal cancer be prevented?

There is no guaranteed way to prevent colon cancer, however, there are simple lifestyle tips to minimize the risk of contracting this type of cancer:

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
  • Limit the intake of saturated fats and red meat.
  • Limit alcohol consumption and cigarettes.

Colorectal cancer is highly preventable with proper screening. While the general population is aware of screening for prostate, breast and cervical cancer, there seems to be limited knowledge on colon cancer screening.

A colonoscopy not only detects cancer early – when it is most treatable – but also ensures the removal of precancerous polyps before they turn into cancers.

So, be sure to encourage your 50-something friends to go for a screening and assure them that while the prep for a routine colonoscopy may be unpleasant, it need only be done every 5 to 10 years in healthy people. This short  procedure is done under sedation and is not painful at all.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, right?


DISCLAIMER: The information on this website is for educational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you are experiencing symptoms or need health advice, please consult a healthcare professional.