What is colon cancer?

  • Colon cancer is a type of cancer that appears in the large intestine (located at the end of your digestive tract).

  • Most cases of colon cancer started from the appearance of a group of inactive cells (called as polyps) on the surface of the colon.

  • Some of these polyps can turn into colon cancer if they are not treated early.

What are the indications?

Among the signs that you may have colon cancer are:

  • Blood is found in your stool

  • Bleeding in the anus

  • Prolonged constipation (more than 4 weeks)

  • Prolonged diarrhea (more than 4 weeks)

  • Intestine feels full even after defecating

  • Stomach often feels uncomfortable (such as stiffness, wind or pain)

  • Losing weight out of a sudden

  • Prolonged weakness or body fatigue

Example of colon infected with cancer

Eating processed food can cause colon cancer

What are the causes?

Among the causes of colon cancer are:

  • Aging: The risk of developing colon cancer increases as you age.

  • Personal history or family with colon cancer: If you or anyone with blood relations with you ever had colon cancer, your risk of developing colon cancer will increase.

  • Radiation exposure. The risk of developing colon cancer will increase if you had receive radiation treatment at your stomach in the past.

  • Alcohol: Drinking alcohol excessively increases the risk of having colon cancer.

  • Smoking: Increases the risk of polyp formation which will develop into cancer in the colon.

  • Obesity: Being fat increases the risk of having colon cancer.

  • Not being active: A less active body is more likely to get colon cancer.

  • Diabetes​

  • Having diet such as :-

    • Red meat

    • Processed meat (sausages, salami, cured meat, salted meat, smoked meat, dried meat, canned meat)

    • High-fat diet

    • Low-fiber diet

How to avoid & control it?

The steps that can be taken to prevent colon cancer are:

  • If any of your family members who has blood relations with you has experienced colon cancer in the past, you have to do colon cancer screening with a doctor at:

    • 45 years old: The frequency of subsequent screenings will be based on your first examination result.

  • ​​If none of your family member who has blood relations with you ever experienced colon cancer in the past, you have to do colon cancer screening with a doctor at:

    • 50 years old: You have to do the first screening test. The frequency of subsequent screenings will be based on your first examination result.

  • Exercise regularly to lose weight and maintain a healthy body.

  • Eat food that guarantees your bowel health like:​

    • Vegetables

    • Fruits

    • Cereals (mainly oats)

    • Meat and lean chicken without preservatives and should be cooked until it is properly done

    • Low-fat dairy products

    • Reduce alcohol consumption (a glass per day) or stop drinking completely

    • Reduce or stop smoking completely

Overconsumption of alcohol increases risk of having liver cirrhosis

How it is detected?

If you have any signs of colon cancer that have been mentioned, discuss with the doctor about your specific situation. With the advice of a doctor, you can decide whether the screening method is right for you.

Among the most commonly used colon cancer detection methods are:

  • Blood tests: Your blood sample will be taken and analyzed to detect for a type of chemical that can be used to determine the presence of cancer cells.

  • Colonoscopy: Usage of a scope to see the inside of your entire colon and rectum. Tissue sampling and removal of polyps (if any) can be made directly through the scope.

If your colon cancer is found to have spread to other parts of the body, the doctor may make the following imaging tests throughout or part of your body to identify the location of cancer cells:

  • Ultrasound

  • Bone scan

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

  • Positron emission tomography (PET scan)

  • Computed tomography scan (CT scan)

How it is treated?

Discuss with your doctor what type of treatment is best for your specific situation.

Among the methods to treat colon cancer are:

Coronary artery bypass surgery uses blood vessel taken from the leg

  • Removal of polyps in the bowel using a scope or through minor surgery.

  • Major surgery to remove part of the bowel (if the condition of the bowel is getting worse).

  • Radiation therapy: Using high-powered radiation (such as X-ray and proton) to kill cancer cells.

  • Chemotherapy: Using medicines to kill rapidly growing cells including cancer cells.

  • Using a type of drug to attack certain proteins in cancer cells to prevent them from growing.

  • Immunotherapy: Activating the body's natural defenses to kill cancer cells or control them from growing.

When do you need to see a doctor?

  • Make an appointment with your doctor if you recognize signs of colon cancer.

  • Each hospital has different methods for screening colon cancer.

  • Discuss the colon cancer screening with your doctor. Together with a physician, you can decide what is best for you.

Malaysia has been voted numerous times as the best destination to seek quality affordable healthcare. Find a hospital in Malaysia that suits your specific situation here: Hospital Guide

How to get ready with your appointments?

For your preparation, a medical specialist may ask you some questions as follows:

  • Are the signs of your illness occurring continuously or occasionally?

  • How severe are the illness signs on your body?

  • Since when did you begin to experience the signs of the illness?

  • Do you have family members who have had the disease?

  • What triggers the signs of your illness to be more severe? (if any)

  • What do you usually do to relieve any signs of your illness?


What you can do to prepare before the appointment is:

  • List the signs of your illness.

  • Know any restriction that needs to be done before the appointment. Make sure to ask first what to do before appointment (such as limiting your diet, etc.).

  • List all the medicines, vitamins or supplements you consume.

  • If possible, invite family members or friends to be with you. Sometimes we find it difficult to remember all the information during the appointment. Your companion might just help you with this.

  • List your personal information that can help your doctor in investigating your illness (such as major stresses in your life or any changes in your life recently).

  • List all the questions you would like to ask your doctor.

Here are some general questions that you can ask your doctor:

  • What are the possible causes for signs of illness that appear on me?

  • What method of screening should I take? Do I need to make any necessary arrangements before doing the screening?

  • What is the severity of my illness?

  • Should I get a second doctor's opinion of my condition?

  • What are the treatment options that are suitable for my condition?

  • Are there any side effects for each treatment?

  • How does each treatment option affect my daily life?

  • How big is my possibility of getting completely healed from the disease if I undergo the treatment?

  • Do I need to undergo the treatment immediately without delay?

  • How long will the treatment last?

  • How often should I get examined after treatment?

  • What are the complications that I need to face in the future?

  • What other alternatives are available apart from the medicines you prescribed? (if any)

  • Do I need to make any changes to my lifestyle? What nutrition and level of activity are appropriate for my condition?

  • What else can I do to protect my health?

  • I have other health problems. How can I best manage this situation?

If you have any other questions, do not hesitate to ask the doctor during your appointment.

Updated: March 7, 2019


  1. Papadakis, Maxine A., McPhee, Stephen J., Rabow, Michael W. CURRENT Medical Diagnosis and Treatment. 58th ed. McGraw Hill Professional, 2018.

  2. Beirman, Robin., Engel, Roger. An A-Z of Symptoms and Signs. Palgrave Macmillan Australia, 2009.

  3. Porter, Robert S. The Merck Manual of Patient Symptoms: A Concise, Practical Guide to Etiology, Evaluation and Treatment. Wiley, 2008.

  4. Griffith, Henry W. Complete Guide to Symptoms, Illness & Surgery. 3rd ed. Body Press/Perigree Books, 1995.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2019. Colorectal Cancer. []. Accessed 19 February 2019.

  6. National Cancer Institute. 2019. Colorectal Cancer. []. Accessed 21 February 2019.

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