Alert over colorectal cancer for under-50s

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 September, 2011, 12:00am


Relatives of colorectal cancer patients are being urged to have regular checks for the condition from 40 years old at the latest, after a screening programme found they were particularly at risk from the disease.

Doctors usually recommend that people start the tests at 50. But the programme, launched last year for brothers and sisters of patients, found that just under half had polyps in their colons - a condition that can develop into cancer. Just over two-fifths of them were under 50.

'These polyps may develop into cancer tumours. The cancer can be prevented if they are detected and removed at an early stage,' said Tuen Mun Hospital gastroenterologist Dr Ma Yiu-keung, who participated in the programme.

He said patients' siblings should start tests a decade earlier than the usually recommended age or a decade before the age of the youngest relative with the disease.

Of the participants, 84 per cent had not previously been tested, with half saying this was because they had no symptoms and others citing reasons such as cost and lack of awareness of the risks.

Doctors involved in the scheme urged the government to make screening services cheaper so that more people could be treated at an early stage, to reduce the burden on the health-care system. The Hospital Authority recorded 1,686 deaths from the cancer in 2008. At least 47 per cent of the patients were at stages three or four when they were diagnosed, meaning it had already spread to the lymph nodes or other organs.

Colorectal cancer is expected to become the most common cancer in Hong Kong in 2015. Risk factors include obesity, a diet that is rich in meat and low in fibre, and family history. The risk of those who have a close relative with the disease increases by two to three times. If the relative had the disease before 50, risk increases by three to four times.

Crystal Poon Wai-kuen, 22, has a long family history of colorectal cancer. Her grandmother, mother and two aunts all died of the disease.

'My family and I believe that I will have it sooner or later, so we're trying our best to discover it as early as possible. The earlier the treatment, the larger the chance to recover,' she said, adding that she had been having annual check-ups for 10 years.


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