Updated 13 April 2017

Colorectal cancer: ignoring a gut feeling?

Colorectal cancer (colon cancer) is the fourth most common cause of death from cancer across all cancer types in men and women worldwide, killing around 700 000 people each year.


Colorectal cancer (also known as colon cancer) is the fourth most common cause of death from cancer across all cancer types in men and women worldwide, killing around 700 000 people each year.

Physical gut feelings can become intuitive and should not be ignored. “Ignoring a Gut Feeling” can be fatal.

Former president and Nobel Peace Prize FW de Klerk, had a close scare with cancer in 2006 and is lending his support to Be Cancer Aware as they launch a campaign to increase public awareness and get people talking about the sensitive issue of cancer, and more specifically Colorectal Cancer.

A global initiative, this exciting awareness campaign for Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month (CCAM), takes place annually in March. Locally, the theme for CCAM is “Ignoring a Gut Feeling?”.

Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cause of death from cancer across all cancer types in men and women worldwide, killing around 700 000 people each year. Another harsh reality is that approximately one million new cases of colorectal cancer are diagnosed worldwide each year. Likewise, in South Africa, it is the fourth most common cancer.  That said, few people have heard about colorectal cancer or know much about it. 

It can happen to anyone

Colorectal cancer refers to cancer of the bowel, colon or rectum. It is a slow-growing cancer that can be present for up to five years before symptoms start to appear. When symptoms do eventually appear, they are sometimes so insignificant that they’re often ignored.

Common symptoms include changes in bowel habits; blood in the stool; cramps, bloating or pain in the abdomen or rectum; unexplained weight loss, and the feeling of not having properly emptied one’s bowel after a bowel motion.

While the disease is typically found in persons over the age of 50, colorectal cancer can affect anyone, regardless of gender or social status.

Mr FW de Klerk, is proof of this. He was diagnosed six years ago during a routine check-up, and has since made a remarkable recovery.

He says: “The post-operative diagnosis was that the cancer had started many years before its detection. I was fortunate in that my neglect to take precautionary measures could be rectified by an operation and effective treatment by an excellent oncologist. Many others are not so fortunate.”

“The lesson for all, from my experience, is to start taking precautionary measures and to have precautionary examinations at a relatively young age,” says de Klerk.

De Klerk has offered his support to Be Cancer Aware during the campaign, and hopes that telling his story will inspire others to get tested.

Information in a flash

The aim of this campaign is to get people talking about colorectal cancer. Be Cancer Aware, with the assistance of V&A Waterfront Mall (Cape Town), Melrose Arch Shopping Centre (Johannesburg) and City View Mall (Durban), together with local dance schools will implement flash mobs at these shopping malls throughout the second half of March.

Lookout for people clad in bright “Ignoring a gut feeling?” attire, bobbing away to some funky tunes in an effort to highlight the importance of awareness and education of this relatively unspoken disease.

Cape Town flash mob

The Market Plaza in the Waterfront rocked to a different beat this weekend. The beat of fifty dancers participating in a flash mob to the hugely popular track, “I’m sexy and I know it” from the group LMFAO. Be Cancer Aware called on the Waterfront Theatre School’s to help with the awareness campaign.

The dancers randomly appeared at the Market Plaza, at lunch time and started dancing to “I’m sexy and I know it” as it started blaring from the amphitheatre’s speakers. The sudden music and dancing, coupled with the humorous re-enactment of the dance moves from the original music video, helped grab the attention of the crowd. Leaving them to wonder what this was all about.

As the dance drew to a close a voiceover informed the audience that March is CCAM, and directed them to the Be Cancer Aware Facebook page for additional information. While the voiceover relayed this message the dancers immediately vanished back into the crowd and passers-by. Leaving only a handful of the campaign members behind to disperse stickers with the campaign details, they too disappeared after a few minutes.

Aim for early detection and treatment

The risk of being diagnosed with colorectal cancer begins at age 40 and increases after the age of 50 – both men and women should be screened. Risk factors revolve around a poor diet, lack of exercise, obesity, family history of colorectal cancer, and age.

“If diagnosed and treated early, colorectal cancer is treatable and in many cases curable,” says Cape Town-based oncologist, Dr Garth Davids.

Dr Davids explains that colorectal cancer can occur anywhere in the colon or rectum. 

“The cancer develops when the normal process of renewal among the cells lining the bowel is interrupted. A tumour may form, which, if detected at an early stage, can be removed and patients’ have a chance of a full recovery and quality of life.  If the cancer has reached a more advanced stage, other treatment options such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy may be considered.  Chemotherapy with targeted therapy may be an option for some patients,” he says.

Be Cancer Aware encourages people to reduce their risk of colorectal cancer through regular screenings and examinations from the age of 40. Regular screenings are the only way to detect and prevent colorectal cancer and early detection is vital for a favourable prognosis.

Go social, and Be Cancer Aware

Awareness of cancer is vital in the fight to reduce the burden of the disease and improve the lives of patients.

Be Cancer Aware (BCA) aims to be one of the key cancer information hubs in South Africa that offers  quality cancer awareness and education information.

BCA is a reliable source of information for those newly diagnosed with cancer.  Together with resources such as a website, newsletter, and social media, BCA hopes to educate, support and encourage patients with appropriate information and resources.  Here you’ll find information about different cancer types, including expert opinions, inspirational stories from patients and survivors and the latest news of local cancer activities.

For more information, or to show your support for CCAM, visit the Be Cancer Aware Facebook group.

Be Cancer Aware press release

- (Health24, March 2012)

Read more:

New colon cancer screening guidelines
Colon cancer advances faster in men
Painkillers lower colon cancer risk


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