Colorectal cancer is a major cause of cancer deaths in the US, with rates increasing among younger people. However, it is also one of the most preventable types of cancer. Unfortunately, many myths about colorectal cancer continue to circulate. In this article, we will debunk common myths and provide you with the facts you need to know.
- Myth: You can't stop colorectal cancer.
Reality: Getting checked can help prevent 60% of colorectal cancer deaths. This is because most colon cancers begin as polyps, which are non-cancerous growths in the large intestine or rectum. If found early, these polyps can be removed before they become cancerous. Sadly, only about a third of colorectal cancers are caught at this early stage. Screening is the best way to detect these polyps.
- Myth: Colonoscopy is a difficult and painful procedure.
Reality: Colonoscopies are usually not painful, but you may feel abdominal cramps. Your healthcare provider will usually give you medicine to help you relax before inserting a tiny camera into your rectum to see inside. Most people do not feel or remember the procedure, but you may feel bloated or gassy afterward.
- Myth: Colonoscopy is the only test that detects colorectal cancer or polyps.
Reality: There are more options than just traditional colonoscopies for colorectal cancer screening. For example, a virtual colonoscopy is an x-ray test that can see inside your rectum and part of your colon without using a scope. Stool tests can also be used to check for signs of cancer. There are two types of fecal occult blood tests, which are typically done once a year. These tests check for hidden blood in your stool, which may be a sign of polyps, cancer, or other conditions. The stool DNA test is another option that checks for genetic variations in your stool that may be signs of polyps or cancer. Your healthcare provider can help you choose the right test for you based on your preferences and risk factors. Talk to your doctor or advanced practice provider about when you should start getting colorectal cancer screenings.
- Myth: The colonoscopy preparation is awful.
Reality: Bowel prep happens the day before your colonoscopy. It cleans and empties your colon to help your healthcare provider get a clear picture. It involves a liquid diet and laxatives, which can be uncomfortable. But remember, bowel prep is an important part of the screening process and must be done correctly to avoid having to repeat the procedure. Bowel prep instructions may vary, so make sure you follow the instructions given by your healthcare provider.
- Myth: 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 habits to decrease your risk of developing this type of cancer. Eat a low-fat diet, exercise regularly, quit smoking if you smoke, and avoid red or processed meat. Colorectal cancer screenings are also important. Colonoscopies are the most effective way to detect and remove non-cancerous polyps before they become cancerous.
- Myth: Changes in my stool’s color mean I have colorectal cancer.
Reality: Rarely. Changes in your stool's color, consistency, or shape could be caused by your diet or medication, but they could also be a warning sign of cancer or other conditions like hemorrhoids or different bowel diseases. Tell your healthcare provider if you have diarrhea, constipation, or other changes that last longer than a few days.
- Myth: Only people with symptoms should get screened for colorectal cancer.
Reality: Screening means testing someone for conditions before they have symptoms. Early colorectal cancer usually has no symptoms, so 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. Talk to your healthcare provider to find out when you should start getting screened and which test is right for you.
- Myth: Colorectal cancer only affects older men.
Reality: Men and women have the same chance of developing colorectal cancer. While the risk of colorectal cancer increases with age, it's not the only factor that puts you at risk. You may be more likely to develop colorectal cancer if you have ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, Lynch syndrome, or other rare inherited syndrome
Takeaway: Colorectal cancer can be prevented, and it is one of the types of cancer with the highest prevention rates. It is important for both men and women without symptoms or risk factors, like genetics, to start screening at age 45. There are several tests available that can detect colorectal cancer, polyps, or other conditions. Schedule an appointment with your primary care provider at St. Joseph Health for a screening.
What Are the Risk Factors for Colorectal Cancer? | CDC
Colorectal Cancer Risk Factors | Hereditary Colorectal Risk Factors
Colorectal Cancer Rates Higher in African Americans, Rising in Younger People
Colorectal Cancer Screening Tests: MedlinePlus Medical Test
Colonoscopy | MedlinePlus
Colon Cancer Myths vs. Reality | ASCRS (fascrs.org)