Early detection of polyps or cancerous cells in the colon can help doctors provide timely treatment. Most cancer research organizations suggest colon cancer screening for people over 45 or 50. In Singapore, the recommended age for colon cancer screening is 50 years old, if the person has no symptoms of colon cancer. Those with a family history of colon cancer should start screening at a lower age of 40.
There are two main colon cancer screening options in Singapore.
Colon Cancer Screening Options
Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT)
FIT screenings are carried out to detect blood in the stool to check for potential colon cancer. This is based on the fact that cancers may bleed into the colon. The bleeding could however, be slight and undetectable to the eye. This easy diagnostic procedure is available as a home kit and requires no special equipment on behalf of the patient. You just need to collect 2 stool samples with the kit over 2 days and send them back to the clinic.
FIT tests should be performed annually. If your FIT screening results came back positive, you should immediately see your doctor about a colonoscopy or other tests necessary to determine if there indeed is colon cancer.
Government Subsidies for FIT Colon Cancer Screening
Most clinics in Singapore will offer FIT screening. Singapore citizens above 50 years of age may be eligible for government subsidies under the Screen for Life national screening programme. Subsidies for FIT screening are available once a year, at selected CHAS GP clinics. Eligible persons need only pay a sum ranging from $0 to $5 for the screening test and the first post screening consultation (if needed). Permanent Residents should check with their preferred CHAS GP clinics for the prevailing rates.
In addition, Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents aged 50 and up are eligible to receive a free FIT kit from the Singapore Cancer Society is they have not done a FIT test in the last 12 months, or a colonoscopy in the last 10 years.
Colonoscopy is recommended for average-risk people over 50. It is a safe and effective screening test to detect colon cancer before signs and symptoms show. It is a procedure to examine the colon lining, and unlike FIT screening, a colonoscopy can detect polyps and not just cancers. A long, thin, and flexible tube with a small camera (called an endoscope) is inserted through the anus into the colon. Colonoscopies are typically day surgery procedures taking around10-20 minutes. Patients are lightly sedated to ease potential discomfort. Additional procedures, such as biopsies and polyps removal, may be done if needed.
Colonoscopies should be performed every five to ten years at the most for the average person. People with higher risk factors (e.g. have signs and symptoms of colon cancer, or a strong family history of the disease) will need more frequent screening.
Preparing for Colonoscopy
As part of the preparation for colonoscopy, the patient will take prescribed laxatives to induce bowel movement to empty the colon of solid waste before colonoscopy. This is because remaining solid waste may obstruct the doctor from getting a clear view and the colonoscopy may need to be rescheduled. The attending doctor will also advice if there is a need to take or avoid certain medications prior to the colonoscopy.
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This article is informative only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.