Myths Vs. Facts: Colon Cancer

There are many misconceptions when it comes to colon and colorectal cancer. Read below to clear up any questions you may have about the disease.

Myth:
Colon cancer is a disease that affects only Caucasian males.

Fact:
Colon cancer affects individuals equally, regardless of gender and, typically, race. Recent studies suggest that African-Americans have a higher incidence of colon cancer and, therefore, might begin their screenings at age 45. If you are African-American, discuss this issue with your physician. Each year about 150,000 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer and 50,000 people will die from the disease, according to the American Cancer Society

Myth:
Only people with a family history of colon cancer get it.

Fact:
Approximately 80 percent of colon cancer cases have no prior family history and most have no symptoms. A family history just means you need to start your preventive colon cancer screenings earlier. Contact your physician to find out what age you need to get screened.

Myth:
I don’t have any symptoms, so I must not have colon cancer.

Fact:
In its early stages, colon cancer generally has no symptoms and gives no warnings. Further in the cancer’s development patients may experience symptoms such as stool changes, rectal bleeding, abdominal pain and unexplained weight loss. Once people begin to experience these symptoms, it can be a sign of more advanced cancer with lower survival rates. That is why screening is so important.

Myth:
Preparing for a colonoscopy is difficult.

Fact:
Preparing for a colonoscopy involves cleaning the colon with the help of fasting paired with prescription and over-the-counter laxatives. Ask your doctor about your options. The preparation can be inconvenient, but it is not difficult or painful.

Myth:
Colonoscopies are unpleasant and uncomfortable.

Fact:
The actual screening is neither painful nor unpleasant. During the test, patients are sedated to eliminate or minimize any discomfort, and the actual procedure only lasts 15-30 minutes. For most, normal activities can be resumed the next day.

Myth:
Katie Couric got a colonoscopy on television, so I should get one too.

Fact:
Colonoscopy screenings are recommended for men and women beginning at age 50. People younger than 50 who have other risk factors such as a family history of cancer, obesity, smoking, ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, should discuss earlier screening options with their doctor. Recent studies suggest that African-Americans have a higher incidence of colon cancer and, therefore, might begin their screenings at age 45. If you are African-American, discuss this issue with your physician.

Myth:
There are several ways to screen for colon cancer without undergoing a colonoscopy.

Fact:
There are several screening options for colorectal cancer, including flexible sigmoidoscopy, fecal occult blood test and double-contrast barium enema and virtual colonoscopy; however, a colonoscopy is considered the most accurate. It detects more cancers, examines the entire colon and can screen, diagnose and remove polyps in the same procedure.

Myth:
A polyp means I have cancer.

Fact:
Polyps are benign growths that have the potential to develop into cancerous tissue if left unchecked. They can be removed easily during a colonoscopy, eliminating the possibility that they could become cancerous.

Myth:
A colon cancer diagnosis means I am dying.

Fact:
When colon cancer is caught early, it is 90 percent curable. That’s why screening is so important. Once colon cancer has spread, survival rates decrease significantly.

Myth:
I can’t afford screening.

Fact:
Most insurance plans, as well as Medicare, cover a colonoscopy. Copay amounts, if required, will vary by plan. Also, if you qualify for a screening colonoscopy, under the Affordable Care Act, your colon screening could be of very little cost to Medicare and private insurance patients.

Myth:
I will have to go to a hospital to have a colonoscopy.

Fact:
For most patients, colon cancer screening does not have to be done at a hospital. Stop Colon Cancer Now-affiliated outpatient centers provide screenings by the same highly-skilled specialists but in a more relaxed, personal environment. Furthermore, because they are not done in a hospital, the cost is usually much lower.