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Colon Cancer Surpasses Lung Cancer as No.1 in Hong Kong

Published on 23 March 2016 back to previous

Colon or colorectal cancer has surpassed lung cancer as the number one cancer in Hong Kong in terms of the number of incidence. A total of 4,769 cases of colon cancer were recorded in 2013, compared with 4,631 cases of lung cancer, according to the latest statistics from the Hong Kong Cancer Registry of the Hospital Authority.

Further down the list were breast, liver and prostate cancer. The mortality rate of colorectal cancer is comparatively lower. About 60 to 70 percent of the patients have been diagnosed with localized tumor, where cure is possible through complete surgical removal. In the case of lung cancer, only 40 percent of the cases were diagnosed as localized. Besides, the growth rate of lung cancer is expected to slow due to the falling number of smokers in the city. On the other hand, colon cancer cases are expected to surge because the diet of Hong Kong people is getting more westernized with low consumption of vegetables and increasing intake of food high in animal fat such as red meat.

In view of this worrisome trend, the government is launching a pilot program of colorectal cancer screening for citizens aged between 61 and 70 for early detection and treatment of the disease. Colon cancer can be roughly classified into four stages. Stage 1 refers to invasion through the bowel wall, penetrating the muscle layer but not involving lymph nodes. Stage 2 refers to invasion through the bowel wall, penetrating the muscle layer and the outer lining but not involving lymph nodes. Stage 3 means the cancer involves lymph nodes. Stage 4 involves widespread metastases or the spread of the cancer to the lungs, liver and other organs. Early stages of colorectal cancer yield no obvious symptoms, but some common signs include: worsening constipation, blood in the stool, and decrease in stool caliber (thickness). Weight loss and fatigue are also warning signs.

People who often experience these symptoms should consult the doctor at once. Those aged between 50 and 75 without any symptoms should also go to the doctor for regular checkups. The three main screening tests for colorectal cancer are fecal occult blood testing, sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy. Fecal occult blood testing should be conducted every one or two years, sigmoidoscopy every five years, and colonoscopy every 10 years.

Medical findings show that low consumption of dietary fibers and high intake of food rich in fat can increase colon cancer risks. People should eat more fruits and vegetables and reduce their intake of red meat and processed meat. Follow the food pyramid for developing a healthy eating habit. Exercise regularly, avoid obesity, and quit smoking and drinking alcohol.

These healthy habits can minimize the risks for developing cancer.

Dr. Wong Kam-hung, consultant at the Department of Clinical Oncology of Queen Elizabeth Hospital, also contributed to this article.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 9.

Translation by Darlie Yiu.

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