Colorectal cancer is among the top four causes of cancer deaths in the United States. While rates have dropped for older adults in recent years, cases among people under 50 are on the rise.
The good news is that colorectal cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancer but still remains one of the most misunderstood cancers. Read on to learn the facts behind the most common colorectal cancer myths:
Myth #1: Colorectal cancer can’t be prevented.
Reality: Screening could prevent 60% of colorectal cancer deaths. That’s because most colon cancers begin as non-cancerous tissue in the large intestine or rectum, called polyps. When polyps are detected early, they can be removed before they become cancerous. Unfortunately, only around a third of all colorectal cancers are diagnosed at this early stage. The most effective way to detect polyps is through screening.
Myth #2: Colonoscopy is a difficult and painful procedure.
Reality: Colonoscopies aren’t typically painful, but you may experience abdominal cramps. Your provider will generally sedate you before inserting a tiny camera attached to a small endoscope. Patients don’t usually feel or remember the procedure, but it’s possible to feel bloated or gassy afterward.
Myth #3: Colonoscopy is the only test that detects colorectal cancer or polyps.
Reality: Colorectal screenings include more options beyond traditional colonoscopies. A virtual colonoscopy, for example, is an x-ray test that looks inside your rectum and part of your colon without using a scope. Stool tests are also used to look for signs of cancer. There are two types of fecal occult blood tests, and they’re typically done once a year. Fecal occult blood tests look for hidden blood in the stool, which may be a sign of polyps, cancer, or other conditions. The stool DNA test is another testing option that checks for genetic variations in the stool that may be signs of polyps or cancer. Which test is right for you depends on your preference and the factors that put you at risk for the disease. Talk to your doctor or advanced practice provider about when you should begin colorectal cancer screenings.
Myth #4: The colonoscopy preparation is awful.
Reality: Bowel prep happens the day before your colonoscopy. It cleanses and empties the colon to help your provider get a clear picture. It involves a liquid diet and laxatives, which may be uncomfortable. But remember, bowel prep is a necessary part of the screening process, which must be done correctly to avoid having to repeat the procedure. Bowel prep instructions may vary, so it’s important to follow instructions from your doctor.
Myth #5: There is nothing I can do to prevent colorectal cancer.
Reality: Colorectal cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancer. You can adopt healthy living habits to help decrease your risk of developing this type of cancer. Follow a low-fat diet, exercise regularly, quit smoking if you’re a smoker, and cut red or processed meat from your diet. Colorectal cancer screenings are essential, too. Colonoscopies are the most effective way to detect and remove non-cancerous polyps before they develop into cancer.
Myth #6: Changes in my stool’s color mean I have colorectal cancer.
Reality: Rarely. Your diet or medication could cause changes in your stool's color, consistency, or shape, but changes in your stool could also be a warning sign of cancer or other conditions like hemorrhoids or different bowel diseases. Tell your doctor if diarrhea, constipation, or other changes last longer than a few days.
Myth #7: Only people with symptoms should get screened for colorectal cancer.
Reality: Screening means testing someone for conditions before they have symptoms. Since early colorectal cancer usually has no symptoms, screening is the only way to detect it. Most people without symptoms or known risk factors should start screening at age 45. You may need to begin screening earlier if you have serious symptoms like rectal bleeding or a personal or family history of colorectal cancer or polyps. Find out from your doctor when you should begin screening for it and which test is right for you.
Myth #8: Colorectal cancer strikes only older men.
Reality: Men and women have the same chances of developing colorectal cancer. While it’s true that the risk of colorectal cancer increases with age, it isn’t the only factor that puts you at risk. You’re also more predisposed if you have ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, Lynch syndrome, or other rare inherited syndromes associated with colorectal cancer. A personal or family history of colon or rectal cancer, polyposis syndromes, and certain polyps called adenomas are also contributing factors.
Colorectal cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancer. Men and women with no symptoms or risk factors like genetics should start screening at age 45. Different tests can detect colorectal cancer, polyps, or other conditions. If you haven’t seen your Dignity Health Medical Group doctor or advanced practice provider in a while, it could be time to schedule an appointment.