Fact or Fiction: Colorectal Cancer Myths

With March coming to a close, we always ask ourselves: Did we do all we could during Colon Cancer Awareness Month to educate each and every patient that has come through our doors? Have we educated our patients in knowing the symptoms and signs? What about screening and treatment options? Most importantly, did we impact the population beyond our doors and let others know that colon cancer is serious, but also preventable and treatable?

However, despite our diligence—as well as that of countless other physicians across the nation and the globe—we come across articles, postings and other publications that bear false information regarding colon cancer.

That said, we are here today to clean up any myths that may be out there and get you back on the right track regarding this disease.

Myth #1: Colonoscopy is the only screening method

Fact: Completely false. Colonoscopies are just one of a few screenings options available to patients at any given time. However, a colonoscopy is the only test that can prevent cancer by removing polyps before they have a chance to turn into something worse. More often than not, colonoscopies are required to confirm results found in many of the other screening options. While the entire community agrees colonoscopies are the number one screening method, others include:

  • Stool DNA testing
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy
  • Double-contrast barium enema
  • Computed tomography (CT) colonography (aka virtual colonoscopy)

Be sure to discuss all screening options with your physician to determine which is best for you.

Myth #2: Only those aged 50 and older can be screened

Fact: False yet again. Routine screening for the average patient will begin at 50 years old, yes. However, many times younger patients are screened for a variety of reasons. Individuals with a high family history of colorectal cancer may be screened sooner than 50 if deemed appropriate by their gastroenterologist. Another example is that, generally, African Americans are recommended to be screened starting at age 45. Insurance companies, on the other hand, typically only cover colonoscopies starting at age 50. In special cases, exceptions are made regardless of age.

Myth#3: Once you are diagnosed with colon cancer, there is nothing you can do

Fact: The key here is how early you catch it. Colorectal cancer is treatable and beatable if caught at an early stage. In fact, those caught at an early stage have a 90 percent chance of cure and surviving. Unfortunately, those who are diagnosed at a later stage have a 10 percent chance of survival. As you can see, this is why regular screenings are crucial.

Myth#4: Colon Cancer only affects men

Fact: Wrong, wrong and wrong. It is an equal opportunity disease that does not discriminate against gender or race. Age—not gender—is the biggest risk factor for colorectal cancer. Screening is important starting at age 50 for men and women alike (as well as other men and women who may be at risk).