Recently, a group of final-year students from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) kick-started a campaign titled ‘Don’t Assume, Be Assured’ to correct misconceptions about colorectal cancer while advocating earlier detection with the stool-tracking app, ‘Poo Keeper’.
According to the 2019 Singapore Cancer Registry 50th Anniversary Monograph, the number of colorectal cancer cases in patients below the age of 50 is on the rise, with majority of them diagnosed within the age of 40 to 49.
Yet, a recent survey revealed that three out of five Singaporeans in their forties are unaware of the cancer’s rising incidence among their age group. Additionally, more than half of them possess zero knowledge of the symptoms. Thus, there is a great need to improve colorectal cancer literacy among younger adults.
The survey, conducted by the aforementioned students from NTU’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, also revealed that Singaporeans tend to delay their visits to the doctor when experiencing potential signs of colorectal cancer such as blood in stools, with 64.1% of respondents who noticed this symptom indicating that they did not get it checked by a doctor.
In focus group discussions held, it was further discovered that this is due to misconceptions that the symptoms are caused by harmless medical conditions, stress, or lack of sleep. As a result, diagnosis and treatment of colorectal cancer in the early stages are usually delayed.
At the moment, colorectal screening for average-risk Singaporeans commences at age 50, while efforts to raise awareness by promoting the uptake of colonoscopies and Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) Kits – a preliminary test that detects hidden traces of blood in stools – are also mainly targeted towards those who are 50 and above. Consequently, younger adults tend to know little about the cancer.
Hence, in an effort to plug the knowledge gap, ‘Don’t Assume, Be Assured’ campaign was initiated by four final-year NTU students – Irwin Tan, Jovena Lim, Julia Tan, and Jonathan Teo – with the Singapore Cancer Society as a partner organisation.
The objective of the campaign is to educate adults within the age 40 to 49 on the symptoms of colorectal cancer, raise awareness of early detection through regular stool-checking, and encourage prompt doctor-visits in the face of anomalies.
The three colorectal cancer symptoms that ‘Don’t Assume, Be Assured’ is highlighting are:
- Blood in stools
- Persistent change in bowel habits
- Tenesmus (the sensation of a persistent urge to pass motion although there is nothing to dispel)
As recommended by multiple health professionals, the campaign also advocates Singaporeans to adopt the quick, hassle-free habit of stool-checking after every bowel movement to keep track of any potential symptoms of colorectal cancer that manifest in their bowel habits. The three key indicators to look out for in one’s stools are: colour, shape, and consistency.
To properly facilitate the adoption of this habit, ‘Don’t Assume, Be Assured’ has worked with an app developer to promote an existing stool-tracking app called ‘Poo Keeper’.
The app enables individuals to keep a log of their observations, making it easier for them to remember and spot unusual changes in their bowel habits. The app is available for free on both Apple and Android devices.
Commenting on the significance of the campaign, Irwin Tan, one of its founders, said, “This issue is close to our hearts as three of us had relatives diagnosed with colorectal cancer. We are aware of the cancer’s effects, and were concerned when we realised that the disease is rising amongst those in their forties – the prime of their lives when health is valued and looking after their families is a priority.”
“However, many of them have harmful misconceptions about colorectal cancer and its symptoms that we wish to debunk. While the topic of cancer is scary, we hope that our campaign will help them feel assured that it’s within their control as long as they take ownership of their health,” he added.