A word on Gastrointestinal and Colorectal Cancer | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, August 07, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, August 07, 2018

A word on Gastrointestinal and Colorectal Cancer

One of the most daunting health issues of modern living is cancer. As medical technology and treatment reach unprecedented heights, it seems our ailments too are digging deeper than before. Star Lifestyle had an exclusive interview with Dr Zee Ying Kiat, Senior Consultant, Medical Oncology, Parkway Cancer Centre from Singapore, for his take on cancer, in particular Gastrointestinal and Colorectal Cancer.

WHY IS COLORECTAL CANCER BECOMING SO COMMON IN SOUTH ASIAN COUNTRIES?

Colorectal Cancer is one of the top three cancers worldwide, and there are many reasons that would account for the increase in incidence of this particular cancer.

First of all, one of the reasons could be that we now have better treatment for diabetes, heart disease, stroke as well as other chronic conditions leading to longevity. Age unfortunately is one the risk factors involved with developing this type of cancer. This is also a risk factor that we are not able to change in any way. As for risk factors that we are able to influence, these would include evolution in our diet and lifestyle. For example, we are now more prone towards processed and fatty food like beef and mutton and other red meats, and at the same time, we have less amount of fibre due to lack of fresh fruits and vegetables in our diet. Our lifestyle has become too sedentary; also we are exercising less which leads to increased obesity.

To sum it up, poor diet, sedentary lifestyle leading to obesity- these are all contributing factors associated to the risk of Colorectal Cancer.

 

WOULD THESE ALSO BE ASSOCIATED TO OTHER CANCERS LIKE GASTROINTESTINAL CANCER?

When talking about Gastrointestinal Cancer, it would mean cancer in the upper digestive tract including the oesophagus, stomach and also the lower digestive tract.

The risk factors for Gastrointestinal Cancer are a little bit different. I can give an example, for Oesophageal Cancer, risk factors would include smoking as well as consuming too much alcohol.

Gastric Cancer or Stomach Cancer however has been associated with an infection caused by a bacterium known as Helicobacter pylori. Helicobacter pylori infection causes inflammation in the stomach lining, leading to gastritis; this is a major risk factor for Gastric Cancer.

 

WHAT CAN WE DO TO PREVENT GETTING HELICOBACTER PYLORI INFECTION?

Hygiene is the key here. Wash your hands properly before taking food and after using the toilet, drink water only from known safe sources are key as well.

I would add that even if someone is found infected, there is an effective therapy to cure the infection, usually through a combination of antibiotics and other medicines to reduce acid production in the stomach.

 

IS IT ONLY LIFESTYLE AND FOOD HABIT THAT ARE ATTRIBUTED AS CAUSES OF CANCER?

Cancer, in itself, is a genetic defect, rather a genetic mutation of cells. Cancerous cells have the ability to attack other normal cells.

Coming to the question of diet and lifestyle as causes of cancers, you have to understand that these increase the risk of cancer rather than being the cause of cancer.

Again, an example is necessary: Smoking can be directly attributed as a cause of Lung Cancer, as for Gastrointestinal Cancer, major risk factors are diet and lifestyle as well as age.

Risk factors are one thing while cause is another element altogether, the key point here is risk factors increase our chance of developing a cancer.

 

CAN YOU ENLIGHTEN US ABOUT THE EXPECTED TREATMENT FOR GASTROINTESTINAL AND COLORECTAL CANCER?

Cancer treatments actually take many forms. Doctors quite often combine different treatments for the best possible outcome for a patient. This can include surgery, where we try to remove all of the cancer affected area. Then there are medicines, which would include chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy, and of course, radiotherapy, where targeted radiation is used to eliminate the cancer cells.

One treatment I would like to emphasise on is immunotherapy, which has evolved drastically. Now we are able to utilise medicines to stimulate the patient's immune system to attack cancer cells. Of course, not everyone is suitable to undergo this therapy. That is why we will keep on emphasising on the importance of getting screened earlier. With the guidance of an expert oncologist, it is easier than ever to decide on the proper treatment for a patient.

 

IS IT POSSIBLE TO TRULY REACH A CANCER FREE LIFE?

Cancers can be prevented. It is estimated that about a third of all cancers can be prevented through not smoking or not taking excessive alcohol, including more fresh fruits and vegetable while cutting down on red meats, or rather, saturated fats in our food intake, as well as more exercise - all of these can decrease the chance of cancer.

While there is the horrific bad chance of being diagnosed with cancer even with living a good, balanced life, we all have to do our part in decreasing the risk factors.

 

CANCER IS A GREAT SCARE FOR THE PEOPLE. CAN YOU GIVE US OUR THOUGHTS ON THIS FROM YOUR YEARS IN DEALING WITH PATIENTS?

The initial impact is fear, and shock. Just for the sake of this extreme bad news, people even avoid proper diagnosis.

Cancer is understood as incurable, but to me, it is a myth. Cures are possible at early stages and detection is the key. The longer you delay, the higher chance of the cancer spreading without any kind of treatment.

I have seen it many times that patients fear the treatment since they are already afraid that there is no cure. This is something you have to avoid. Analyse your symptoms and seek the proper treatment. Suppose you delay your diagnosis and reach out or rather forced to seek treatment only when you have reached the severe stage. As a doctor, I would have to ask why the patient did not come in earlier? Looking back, would you not want to have a treatment in the earlier stages and lead a more comfortable life instead of coming to a doctor in a terminal condition?

 

FOR OUR READERS, WHAT WOULD YOUR HIGHLIGHT BE?

Screening, I cannot emphasise on it enough. This is a process of looking for a condition like cancer, even without the presence of any typical symptoms. Anyone can be feeling well and leading a perfectly normal life, however cancer in its early stages may not have any visible symptoms at all. The aim of screening in this case would be to detect the presence of cancer before the severe symptoms are visible. This way, cancer can be detected in a far earlier stage where treatments can be more effective. The likelihood of being cured would simply be higher. This would include Colorectal Cancer, Breast Cancer as well as Lung Cancer.

Also, patients have to seek the suitable treatment options for their specific type of cancer at the specific stage the cancer is in.

 

Interviewed by Iris Farina

If you have any queries, or questions regarding cancer, feel free to contact-

Parkway Cancer Centre Dhaka Office:

Suite-B3, Level-4, House-1 0, Road-53 Gulshan-2,

Dhaka-1212, Bangladesh,

Helpline: (+88) 0197 777 0 777

Email: dhaka@canhope.org

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