Colon or bowel cancer is affecting more and more people in Vietnam, but doctors say it can be prevented with vigilance.
Dr. Nguyen Thuy Oanh, head of the endoscopy department at the Ho Chi Minh City Medical University Center, ranked it the third or fourth most common cancer in the country.
A year-long study by the department in 2010, done on 219 patients with intestine symptoms at the hospital, found 7.3 percent of them in the early stages of the cancer.
Typical symptoms for the condition, which causes intestinal disorders, are stomachache, diarrhea, constipation, blood in the stool and anemia.
Unfortunately the cancer tends to show symptoms only in an advanced stage, but doctors said it can be prevented through increased surveillance, like having frequent tests.
Oanh said healthy people above 50 should test every 10 years.
The condition develops very quietly with few symptoms for several years, she said.
Dr. Nguyen Chan Hung, chairman of the Ho Chi Minh City Cancer Association, said the condition is curable if treated early when the chance of a complete recovery is more than 90 percent.
The cancer usually starts with polyps in the rectum, and the polyps become cancerous if not removed surgically, he said.
In later stages, the tumors grow bigger, blocking the intestines, and only 9 percent of patients can survive for more than five years after that.
People above 50 have a high possibility of getting the cancer, with the most vulnerable ones being those with rectal polyps longer than a centimeter, multiple family members with the polyps, or rectal inflammation for more than eight years, Oanh said.
She said people who had other cancers also have a high chance of getting colorectal cancer since the bowel is a popular site for metastasis.
Once polyps are discovered and removed, patients need to get checked every month for the first three months, before the frequency is reduced to every three and then six months and then three years, she said.
Doctors said the best way is to take preventive measures by exercising for at least 30 minutes a day and changing eating habits.
Dr. Yen Lam Phuc of the Vietnam Military Medical University told Vietweek that people should eat more fruits and vegetables to avoid constipation, which causes the intestines to absorb back the discharged elements, including toxic ones, and thus increases the chances of getting bowel cancer.
People should avoid animal fat and meat by partly replacing meat with mushroom and soybean to facilitate the bowel's operation, Phuc said.
They should also avoid foods with coloring or fungi and burnt foods since they contain toxins that cause the cancer, while adding more vegetables with anti-oxidants such as broccoli, tomato, and carrot to their diet, he added.