“Colon cancer ranks number one amongst males and number two amongst females. There is a tremendous jump in cases over the last 10 to 15 years and it will be a disease that will be with us for the next three to four decades,” stated Dr Ngoi Sing Shang, one of Singapore’s leading colorectal surgeons, at the Greater Good Series lunchtime talk on ‘Beating the Silent Killer: Colon Cancer’.
Dr Ngoi, who specialises in colorectal and laparoscopic surgery, practises at the Gleneagles Medical Centre and Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital and is also Adjunct Associate Professor at the Department of Surgery, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine (YLLSoM), National University of Singapore (NUS). He attributes colon cancer to a sum of multifactorial causes: genetic traits, environmental factors, individual susceptibility and highlighted that Singaporeans are particularly susceptible to the problem due to the industrialisation and affluence of the country, which exposes Singaporeans to more pollutants and good but unhealthy food.
Despite the grim figures, not all hope is lost. Dr Ngoi explained, “It is best for people over the age of 50 to undergo screening as the incidence of cancer increases past this age. This can be done through stool tests or colonoscopy – a slightly invasive but more accurate test which involves the introduction of a fibreoptic tube into the anus for instant visualisation of the whole colon. Our aim is to detect the disease at a pre-cancerous or early stage so that we can cure it easily.”
Colon cancer is called a silent killer because once a person develops symptoms such as rectal bleeding, increased constipation and persistent bloatedness, it is likely that the cancer has already developed into a fairly late stage. This makes early screening tests extremely important.
To reduce the risks, conscientious effort must be made to change lifestyles, such as reducing energy, fat and meat intake, consuming more fibre, and exercising frequently. However, Dr Ngoi indicated that it is very difficult to know the exact combination of the above factors that will lower risks.
Nevertheless, Dr Ngoi said that colon cancer can be treated, depending on the stage of cancer. “There is hope even for the later stages of cancer. Surgery is sometimes deferred till other treatments are instituted. The treatment of colorectal cancer had seen vast improvement in the last decade.
“Now, we apply the use of chemotherapy first, to reduce the stage of the cancer and to downsize the disease so that we may be able to lessen the surgery that is required. It is a rational approach as compared to previous usage of chemotherapy after surgeries. Together with newer surgical technology and better chemotherapy methods, we are changing the way we treat our patients and making the clearance of cancer more effective,” he explained.
A patient of Dr Ngoi’s, Mr Benny Teo, shared with the audience how he stubbornly ignored symptoms for more than nine months. Fortunately, the new chemotherapy method has helped to reduce the Stage 3 cancer in his rectum and colon. After four months of chemotherapy, the doctors only had to treat his cancer in the colon because his cancer at the rectum has been completely removed.
While there is hope for better treatments in the future, Dr Ngoi concluded by reminding us that the best prevention is still through screening tests.
“If we can catch it earlier, it is easier to cure a person and there will be less suffering,” he said.
The NUS Greater Good Series features talks by leading minds on topics related to philanthropy. These include generosity, giving and service to the community, as well as leadership, personal well-being and mental resilience. The Series aims to raise awareness of philanthropy and its impact on society. The Series was made possible thanks to a generous gift from Newsman Realty Pte Ltd.
For further information on the NUS Greater Good Series, contact Ms Chow Wei Ling at email@example.com