Colorectal cancer is a severe disease that's among the top causes of cancer deaths in the United States. While it's more common in older adults, cases are rising among people under 50. The good news is that colorectal cancer is preventable but is also one of the most misunderstood cancers. Here are the facts behind some of the most common myths about colorectal cancer.
Myth #1: Colorectal cancer can’t be prevented.
Reality: Screenings can prevent up to 60% of colorectal cancer deaths. 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. The most effective way to detect polyps is through screening.
Myth #2: Colonoscopy is a complex and painful procedure.
Reality: Colonoscopies aren’t typically painful, but you may experience abdominal cramps. Your provider will 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: Different tests can detect colorectal cancer, polyps, or other conditions. Talk to your doctor or advanced practice provider about when to begin colorectal cancer screenings and which test is right for you.
Myth #4: The colonoscopy preparation is awful.
Reality: The bowel prep the day before your colonoscopy may be uncomfortable, but cleaning and emptying the colon is necessary to help your provider get a clear picture. Bowel prep instructions may vary, so it’s essential to follow instructions from your doctor.
Myth #5: There is nothing I can do to prevent colorectal cancer.
Reality: 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.
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. 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.
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.
Takeaway: 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. Visit your Baylor St. Luke's Medical Group primary care provider for a screening appointment.
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)