March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, which shines a national spotlight on this mostly preventable disease. Here are 10 of the most common myths surrounding colorectal cancer.
1. Myth: There is nothing I can do about getting colorectal cancer.
Truth: Most cases of colorectal cancer may be prevented. Simple steps such as routine exercise, eating a low-fat, high-fiber diet, high in vegetables and fruits, and not smoking lower your risk of developing colorectal cancer. As most colorectal cancer develops from pre-cancerous polyps that start in the lining of the colon and rectum, there are screening methods used to detect and remove polyps before they come cancerous (i.e. colonoscopy).
2. Myth: Only people with symptoms need to undergo screening.
Truth: Most cases of early colorectal cancer usually have no symptoms. It is extremely important to screen prior to the onset of symptoms to either prevent cancer or catch it early enough to cure it. It is recommended that most people without a family history start screening for colorectal cancer at age 45.
3. Myth: Only people with a family history of colorectal cancer get it.
Truth: It is estimated that more than 75% of new cases of colorectal cancer occur in people without a family history or known risk factors. People with a family history do have a slightly increased chance of getting colorectal cancer and should start screening earlier than the general population (age 45).
4. Myth: If I get diagnosed with colorectal cancer, it is fatal.
Truth: Colorectal cancer is often curable if it is detected early enough. More than 90% of patients that have early stage cancer confined to the colon or rectum are alive five years after diagnosis. Most cases of colorectal cancer found are still viewed as curable. Even those not curable are usually treatable.
5. Myth: Colorectal cancer only happens in old men.
Truth: Colorectal cancer occurs in both men and women of all ages. It is the third leading cause of cancer and the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States. The average person in the United States has around a 5% lifetime chance of developing colorectal cancer. In the United States alone, around 140,000 new cases will be diagnosed, and 56,000 people will die from colorectal cancer each year.
6. Myth: I can’t get colorectal cancer before the age of 50.
Truth: The fastest growing demographic developing colorectal cancer is between the ages of 40-50. Around 11% of all colorectal cancer is diagnosed in people under the age of 50.
7. Myth: Having a colonoscopy is difficult and painful.
Truth: The colonoscopy procedure is not painful and the patient is usually sedated during the procedure to minimize any discomfort. While the most feared part of the procedure is the preparation beforehand (i.e. “cleaning out”), this is the most important part as it allows the doctor to see the lining of the colon and rectum clearly and helps detect even small polyps that can grow into cancer.
8. Myth: Colorectal cancer screening is not covered under most health insurance plans
Truth: Medicare and most commercial health insurance plans cover the cost of a screening test.
9. Myth: If they find a polyp during colonoscopy, I definitely have cancer and need surgery.
Truth: A polyp is usually a pre-cancerous lesion that can progress to cancer, but not usually cancerous when detected/removed. If a polyp is detected during a colonoscopy and removed, this often prevents cancer and prevents the need for surgery. This is how colonoscopy and sigmoidoscopy prevent death from colorectal cancer. However, it is true that if cancer is found within the polyp, you may need surgery to remove that portion of the colon or rectum. Even if you need surgery, colorectal cancer can still be curable and often can be performed using minimally invasive approaches such as laparoscopic or robotic surgery.
10. Myth: Everything causes cancer so why bother trying to prevent it?
Truth: There have been certain risk factors identified for colorectal cancer that have been shown to increase the likelihood of cancer and polyp development. Eating a healthy diet, avoiding tobacco products and smoke, exercising regularly and keeping up with screening recommendations are simple and controllable ways to reduce the risk of cancer development.