Anatomy of digestive system

Gut Health Matters: Navigating Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is the number one cancer in Singapore and the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide.
By the team at Speedoc,
March 31, 2023

Just as with most parts of the body, the colon and rectum play an integral role in keeping us healthy. They form the last part of the digestive tract and consist of a long passageway of tube-like structure transporting food from the small intestine to the anus via peristaltic movements. The main function of this segment of the digestive system is to remove water and nutrients from partially digested food to be absorbed into the bloodstream, while turning the remaining material into stool to be excreted from the body. 

Colorectal cancer is caused by the uncontrolled proliferation of abnormal cancer-causing cells originating from the colonic and rectal region. Before cancer arises, a growth of tissue or a tumour usually begins as a benign (non-cancerous) polyp on the inner walls of the colon or rectum. While polyps are fairly common amongst people above the age of 50, there are certain types of polyps that may develop into cancerous masses over time and should be removed as soon as they are detected.

Risks factors of colorectal cancer

The risk of developing colorectal cancer can be influenced by various factors, including:

  • Ethnicity

Among the races in Singapore, individuals who belong to the Chinese ethnic group have a higher risk of colorectal cancer.

  • Family history

Some people inherit a rare disease called familial polyposis in which multiple colorectal polyps emerge at a young age. This group of people have a very high risk (80% to 100%) of developing colorectal cancer. 

Having biological relatives with colorectal cancer also increases the risk of developing the disease although this risk is lower compared to one with familial polyposis.

  • Personal medical history

People with a previous colorectal cancer diagnosis or detected with colorectal polyps in the past may be at a higher risk of experiencing a recurrence.

  • Age

The risk of colorectal cancer increases with age, with most cases occurring in people over 50 years old.

  • Lifestyle 

Living a sedentary lifestyle, smoking and alcohol consumptions are interrelated factors known to increase one’s risk for colorectal cancer 

  • Dietary habits

Dietary factors that may increase colorectal cancer risk

Dietary factors that may reduce colorectal cancer risk

Processed meat (e.g. sausages, luncheon meat, ham)

Fruits and vegetables

Red meat (e.g. beef, pork, lamb)


Refined sugar (e.g. sugary drinks and desserts)




Despite the knowledge of these risk factors, the exact cause of colorectal cancer is unknown. It is estimated that 50% of colorectal cancer patients do not possess any known risk factors. 

It is also important to note that having one or more of these risk factors does not necessarily mean that a person will develop colorectal cancer. However, it may be beneficial for individuals who have an increased risk of developing the disease to undergo regular cancer screening assessments to detect any potential signs of colorectal cancer early.

Book a cancer screening

Colorectal cancer signs and symptoms

Colorectal cancer patients often do not experience any symptoms at an early stage. 

In the later stages of the disease, common symptoms include: 

  1. Change in bowel habits

  2. Presence of blood in stools

  3. Anaemia (low red blood cell count)

  4. Persistent abdominal discomfort or pain
  5. Presence of a lump in the abdominal area
Colorectal cancer symptoms stomach pain

Ways to reduce your risk for colorectal cancer

Making small yet sustainable changes to your lifestyle habits can be helpful in preventing colorectal cancer and many other diseases. Take steps to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer by: 

  • Quitting smoking

  • Limiting alcohol intake

  • Get regular health and cancer screening

  • Staying active with regular exercise regimes

  • Include plenty of fruits and vegetables into your meals

  • Reducing consumption of red meats and processed foods

For most people, the development of colorectal cancer progresses slowly over the years and many symptoms may go unnoticed. Colorectal disease is highly treatable, so don’t wait before it’s too late.

There are several quick and convenient screening tests that can be performed to detect any abnormalities early for optimal disease outcomes. Consult a medical professional to have your concerns addressed today. 

Consult a doctor