Finger Key to Detecting Large Intestine Cancer
Large intestinal cancer used to be considered ``Western'' as it was rarely detected among Koreans.
However, it ranked second among cancers diagnosed here following stomach cancer, according to Ministry for a Health, Welfare and Family Affairs report.
Prof. Park Jae-gahb of Seoul National University Hospital sees the change in diet as the main contributing factor. ``Of course family history's important. However, these days, more people without such family records are diagnosed with the disease. I suspect excessive calorie intake through fatty foods and meat are the main reasons. We are eating too much,'' he says.
Park says eating habits are intruding on modern Koreans' lives. ``In the old days, large intestinal cancer was one of the least common diseases. But throughout the 1990s it became one of the most rapidly growing ones,'' he says.
The large intestines consist of mainly of the rectum and colon. The colon is only about 15 centimeters long and at the entrance of the anus but accounts for two-thirds of cases of the disease.
Park says doctors should examine the region manually. ``Just by putting their fingers into the anus, doctors will be able to sense any irregularities, such as small lumps, inside the colon. In many cases, fingers are more sensitive than any tool,'' he says, adding that not all doctors prefer this method since it causes discomfort to the patient and some doubt its effect.
Colonoscopies, MRIs and endoscopes are used for examining deeper parts of the intestine.
Cancer treatments are developing daily. In the old days, artificial anuses were commonly used, however saving the original organ is now preferred. ``Nothing can ever function better than your own organ. It is quite challenging for doctors but we believe it is the best way for all and now, only about 6 percent of patients receive an artificial organ,'' he says.
These days, the much talked-about endoscopic surgery is popular. By punching three to four 1-2 centimeter-holes in the stomach and inserting endoscopes and small knives, one can remove the tumors with less bleeding and recovery pain. With proper chemotherapy and other treatments, the survival rate is growing faster than ever, he says.
Such cancer is developed over several years. It starts with little polyps and develops into cancer. ``It takes an average of ten years,'' Park says.
Therefore, he stresses the importance of early detection and diagnosis. ``Regular check ups could prevent you from reaching advanced stages,'' he says.
Park advises people to look at their excrement. ``If it seems red or is covered with viscous fluid, you should consult a doctor immediately. If you have stomachaches often, suffer from constipation and feel some lumps around the anal area, you should also consult a doctor_ it may indicate the beginning or mid stages of intestinal disorder,'' he says.
Park says Korea now ranks high for clinical treatment. ``We will now focus on defining the basic mechanism of the disease and how we can get rid of it in the later stages,'' he says. He hopes stem cells could play some role in it. ``But it will definitely not be in the near future,'' he says.
Park graduated from SNU and has served as the first head of National Cancer Center. He is also a devout promoter of antismoking campaigns and is interested in climate change.