Dispelling Myths About Colon Cancer
Commonly referred to as colon cancer, colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of death from cancer among men and women in the U.S. Approximately 140,000 people are diagnosed with colon cancer in the U.S. each year, and over 50,000 people die from it annually. But the good news is that colon cancer is largely preventable with regular screening, and it is curable with early detection.
More good news comes from a recent study done by leading cancer groups. It states that deaths from colon cancer in the U.S. are down nearly five percent, a decline that is more than that seen with the other leading causes of death from cancer (including lung, breast and prostate cancers). Key factors credited with the decline include prevention through screening and the removal of precancerous polyps.
Over the years, we have heard many myths about colon cancer. Some fears, like the fear of having a colonoscopy (link to post) are really nothing to fear at all. Facing these fears could actually save your life.
Here we will talk about some of the common myths and reveal the actual reality with information from the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons.
MYTH: “There is nothing I can do about getting colon cancer.”
The reality is that not many people realize that colon cancer may be preventable. A low-fat diet that is high in vegetables and fruits, plus regular exercise may reduce your risk of developing the disease. Since most colon cancer develops from non-cancerous polyps (growths on the lining of the colon and rectum), screening methods can detect and remove polyps before they become cancerous.
MYTH: “There is no cure for colon cancer.”
Colon cancer is curable when detected early. Approximately 90% of patients with colon cancer that is confined to the colon or rectum can be cured. The problem is that only 37% of all cases are diagnosed at this stage. The remaining 63% don’t come to the doctor until the disease has spread beyond the wall of the colon or rectum or to other parts of the body.
MYTH: “Screening is only necessary if I have symptoms.”
Early colon cancer often has no symptoms, so it is important to have regular screenings to find any potential problems. Men and women who are 50 or older should get screened regularly. Those who are at high risk due to personal or family history of colon cancer or polyps might need to be screened before age 50. Women who have a personal or family history of ovarian, endometrial or breast cancer may need to be screened before age 50 as well.
MYTH: “Only people with a family history of colon cancer will get it.”
The truth is that about 75% of all new cases of colon cancer occur in individuals with no known risk factors, other than being age 50 or older. A family history just means you may need to start your screening earlier or have screenings done more frequently.
MYTH: “Only old, white men get colon cancer.”
Men and women of various ages can get colon cancer. In fact, it is the third leading cause of cancer death among women. It does not discriminate against gender or race. Your age, not your gender, is the most important risk factor.
MYTH: “A colonoscopy is a difficult procedure to have.”
The colonoscopy procedure is not something you should fear. You are sedated during the procedure to minimize any discomfort. The preparation itself, or “cleaning out,” the day before is a commonly feared part of the procedure. While you will spend extra time in the bathroom, this preparation is extremely important as it allows your doctor to see the lining of the intestine clearly. Inadequate preparation can lead to missed lesions or a need to repeat the procedure.
MYTH: “Having a polyp means I have cancer and need surgery.”
A polyp is a precancerous lesion that can progress to colon cancer. If they are detected and removed before this progression, colon cancer can be prevented. Most benign polyps are completely treated by removal during the colonoscopy. It is true that if cancer is found within the polyp, you may need surgery to remove that part of the colon. Even if you need surgery, we can perform many procedures using laparoscopic or minimally invasive approaches, which minimize recovery time, pain, and have many other benefits.
Alabama Colon & Rectal Institute (also known as the “Butt Hut” around town!) has been in practice since 1990 as a free standing, private practice located in downtown Birmingham, Alabama. We are known for our efficiency and patient care, in a more relaxed office-based setting. Our doctors are known regionally for their expertise and are active in teaching surgical residents and other physicians. We are also a major sponsor of The Rumpshaker 5K, a race that promotes awareness about colorectal cancer. Check out our website for more information, or give us a call to make an appointment at (205) 458-5000, or email us at [email protected].