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Colorectal cancer in Hong Kong

According to information released by the Hong Kong government earlier this year, the leading cause of death in Hong Kong is malignant neoplasms, or cancer. The government found that in 2013 slightly over 31% of deaths in the city were attributed to cancer, nearly double the number of deaths attributed to pneumonia, the next leading cause of death. While lung cancer is the most common type of cancer in Hong Kong, there is another that has seen an increase in prevalence over the past few years: colorectal cancer. In this article we take a look at what exactly colorectal cancer is, symptoms, and what you can do to prevent it.

Defining colorectal cancer

As you can probably guess from the name, colorectal cancer is any cancerous growth that starts in the colon or rectum; the last five or so feet of the gastrointestinal tract. The vast majority of colorectal cancer cases are classified as adenocarcinomas, meaning the cancer starts to grow from glandular cells like those that are found on the inside of your colon, and start out as benign polyps (growths) that can turn cancerous if left in place.

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Historically, colorectal cancer affects men more than women. According to the Center for Health Protection (CHP) in Hong Kong, “There were 4,563 new cases of colorectal cancer in 2012, with 2,564 cases of males and 1,999 cases of females.” In 2013, 14.6% of all cancer-related deaths in Hong Kong were caused by this type of cancer.

As with many other types of cancer, your risk of developing colorectal cancer increases as you age, and as this chart on HealthyHK shows, the number of cases in Hong Kong has been generally increasing since 1993. This indicates that people in Hong Kong are at an increasingly higher risk, especially as they age.   

Symptoms of colorectal cancer

Because this is a serious form of cancer, it would be beneficial to be able to identify the symptoms most commonly associated with colorectal cancer. These commonly include:

  • A change in the consistency of your stool and bowel habits
  • Blood in your stool or bleeding
  • Abdominal discomfort including gas, cramps, and pain
  • A Feeling that your bowl is not empty after going to the bathroom
  • Consistent weakness/fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss

While these are common symptoms, doctors note that these are actually signs of advanced stages of cancer and that many people with the early stages of this type of cancer may not notice any signs at all. These symptoms will also be different based on where the cancer is, and how large it has grown.

If you have noticed any of these changes, regardless of your age, it would be beneficial to schedule an appointment with your doctor for a screening and tests.

Preventing this type of cancer

One of the best ways to prevent something is to first take steps to know more about it. In this case, the first thing you should do is learn more about colorectal cancer and the risk factors associated with it. According to the CHP, “Colorectal cancer is associated with a diet low in dietary fibre, high in red and processed meat. Other risk factors include physical inactivity, obesity or high levels of abdominal fat, alcohol consumption, some chronic intestinal disorders (e.g., ulcerative colitis), and hereditary bowel diseases (e.g., familial adenomatous polyposis)”

There are other non-controllable risk factors to be aware of, for example if you are over the age of 50 you face a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer. The same goes for if you have had a history of non-cancerous polyps in your colon, or a family member has had it before.

Luckily, for many, there are things you can do to prevent colorectal cancer. Many guidelines mention measures including:

  • Eating a high fibre diet
  • Eating less red meat
  • Exercising regularly
  • Maintaining, or reaching, a healthy weight
  • Reducing or eliminating smoking and consuming alcohol

That being said, doctors around the world generally recommend that you be tested yearly for colorectal cancer starting from when you turn 50. If you are at risk, it may be beneficial to start yearly tests earlier.

When it comes to these tests, doctors in Hong Kong will use two to three different tests for colorectal cancer:

  • Colonoscopy – This is the most common and effective test for identifying colorectal cancer, and involves a flexible tube with a video camera on it that the doctor essentially threads along your rectum and colon looking for polyps. If any are found, there are tools in the tube that can take skin samples for testing.  
  • Faecal occult blood test – This is a newer test that has proven some success in identifying colon cancer. Doctors will examine your faeces for invisible traces of blood, which are often present when there is a growth or cancer in the colon.  
  • CT colonography – A newer form of test that is often used with patients who can’t have colonoscopies. This involves a CT scanner that takes multiple images from different angles to give doctors a virtual view of the inside of your colon.

While colorectal cancer does affect men more than women, the CHP puts the male to female ratio of cases at 1.3 to 1, as we noted above the number of cases is increasing for both sexes. This means it would be a good idea to discuss colon cancer screenings with your doctor on at least a yearly basis no matter what gender you are.

How can health insurance help?

A robust health insurance plan in Hong Kong can go a long way in helping not only cover the costs of any cancer-related treatment, but also in ensuring that you have access to the best experts and care available in the city, or even other countries. Here at Pacific Prime Hong Kong we offer a myriad of international health insurance plans that have benefits including coverage for regular health checks, cancer screening, and even cancer treatment.

While it may not be pleasant to consider the risk of developing any form of cancer, health insurance plans can help offset the risk. To learn more, or get a free quote on an international health insurance plan, contact us today.    

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Jess Lindeman

Content Strategist at Pacific Prime Hong Kong
Jessica Lindeman is a Content Strategist at Pacific Prime. She comes to work every day living and breathing the motto of "simplifying insurance", and injects her unbridled enthusiasm for health and insurance related topics into every article and piece of content she creates for Pacific Prime.

When she's not typing away on her keyboard, she's reading poetry, fueling her insatiable wanderlust, getting her coffee fix, and perpetually browsing animal Instagram accounts.
Jess Lindeman