The recent death of award-winning film director Edward Yang (楊德昌) from complications resulting from colon cancer has drawn attention to the high incidence of the disease in Taiwan.
Yang, who won the best director award in 2000 at the Cannes Film Festival, died on June 29 at his home in Beverly Hills, California, at the age of 59. He had fought colon cancer for seven years but kept his illness private.
Shen Min-yin (沈名吟), a colorectal surgeon at the Hsinchu Hospital, said on Wednesday that people should be proactive about screening for colon cancer because when symptoms begin to appear, the disease is already at an advanced stage.
Shen cited a number of public figures who have been diagnosed with colon cancer, including Kaohsiung County Commissioner Yang Chiu-hsing (
He said people over 50 years of age should have a stool blood test every year and be screened with a flexible sigmoidoscope -- a long, thin tube with a tiny camera on the end -- every five years to look for problems in the rectum and lower colon.
Shen suggested that those in groups at higher risk of the disease, including people with a family history of colon cancer and people who have inflammatory bowel disease, should have a colonoscopy every year.
Colon cancer is the third most common form of cancer -- behind breast cancer and liver cancer -- in Taiwan, and the third leading cause of cancer deaths after lung cancer and liver cancer.
In addition to regular screening, the risk of developing colon cancer can be reduced by exercising three to five times a week, avoiding greasy food, maintaining an adequate level of fiber in one's diet, limiting alcohol intake, not smoking and keeping one's weight down, according to doctors.
The symptoms of colon cancer may not be apparent early on, but a change in bowel habits, such as constipation or diarrhea, and blood in the stool are warning signs of potential trouble.
Doctors say that early detection of the disease is important because it increases the survival rate to five times that of late-stage colon cancer patients.