March is National Colorectal Awareness Month. While colon cancer is responsible for an estimated 50,000 deaths each month, increased awareness efforts have caused the death rate to drop consistently since the 1980s.
As a way to recognize colon cancer survivors, patients and caregivers, people often wear dark blue ribbons. Early detection is one of the most effective ways to cure colon cancer, but the disease is often misunderstood. To help bring awareness to the disease, detection and treatment, we’re setting the record straight on five of the most common myths.
Colon Cancer Myths
- MYTH: Nobody in my family has a history of colorectal cancer, so I am not at risk.
FACT: According to the American Cancer Society, the majority of colon cancer cases are discovered in people who have no family history of the disease. Of course, those with a family history of the cancer are at higher risk.
- MYTH: Colon cancer only occurs in men.
FACT: Statistically speaking, women are only slightly less likely to be diagnosed with the disease. The risk for women developing colon cancer is an estimated 1 in 24. The risk for men is slightly higher at 1 in 22. Contrary to belief, sex is not a huge differentiating factor in colon cancer patients.
- MYTH: If my stool looks normal, I should be fine.
FACT: It’s completely possible to have colon polyps or colon cancer and have no outward signs in your stool. The lack of physical signs makes regular screening even more important.
- MYTH: I’m too young to get colon cancer.
TRUTH: The American Cancer Society recently changed its guidelines on colon cancer screenings. The organization recommends routine screenings for anyone age 45 and older. More than 9 in 10 colorectal cancer cases are reported in individuals 50 and older, so beginning screenings at age 45 can help detect and treat the disease much sooner.
- MYTH: Colonoscopies are painful.
TRUTH: A colonoscopy is a routine test for individuals 45 and older. Despite the popular belief that a colonoscopy is painful, most patients find the procedure to simply be uncomfortable.
Preparing for the test requires you to avoid solid foods and take a bowel-cleaning medicine 24 hours before the procedure. Your doctor will administer sedation to help you feel more comfortable and most people are cleared to return to normal activities the same day. The procedure can remove precancerous polyps, which is a much better option than treating fully develop colon cancer with surgery, chemotherapy or radiation.
Talk to your doctor about some newer colon cancer screening tests that can be completed at home. It’s not uncommon to have no indicators of the disease until it’s severely advanced. Colon cancer screening and prevention is crucial in beating this disease.