Myths and Facts About Colorectal Cancer


More than 150,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer each year and approximately 50,000 die from the disease. But lives could be saved if more people were screened for the disease and they had a greater understanding about the myths and facts about colorectal cancer.

Myth: Colorectal cancer affects only white men.

Fact:   Colorectal cancer affects both men and women. African Americans actually are diagnosed with and die from colorectal cancer at higher rates than any other racial or ethnic group in the United States.

Myth:  Age is not a factor in developing colorectal cancer.

Fact:   More than 90 percent of people diagnosed with the disease are age 50 and older. The American Cancer Society recommends getting screening for colorectal cancer at age 50 or earlier if you have other risk factors for developing the disease such as a personal history of colorectal polyps or inflammatory bowel disease, family history of colorectal cancer or certain inherited gene mutations.

Myth:  My lifestyle doesn’t have any impact on developing colorectal cancer.

Fact:   Certain lifestyle-related factors that have been linked to an increased risk for colorectal cancer include a diet that is high in red and processed meats, lack of exercise, obesity, smoking, heavy alcohol use and type 2 diabetes.

Myth:  Colorectal cancer can’t be prevented, so I don’t need to be screened.

Fact:   Colorectal cancer usually starts as a small growth, or polyp, that can be removed to prevent the cancer from developing. It can take 10 to 15 years for the first abnormal cells to grow into polyps and then develop into colorectal cancer.

Myth:  I don’t have symptoms, so I can’t have colorectal cancer.

Fact:   Approximately half of people diagnosed with colon cancer did not have any symptoms. Signs of the disease, such as stool changes, rectal bleeding, abdominal pain and unexplained weight loss, typically do not appear until the disease has advanced and is more difficult to treat.

Myth:  Colonoscopies are hard to prepare for and very uncomfortable.

Fact:   Preparation for a colonoscopy requires cleaning the colon with the help of special drinks consumed a day or two before the procedure. There are many options so most people can find something tolerable. Patients are sedated to eliminate discomfort during the colonoscopy, which takes about 15 to 30 minutes. They can return to regular activities the next day.

Myth:  The only way to screen for colorectal cancer is to have a colonoscopy.

Fact:   Colonoscopy is considered the gold standard to detect cancer, examine the entire colon, and remove precancerous polyps. But other screening options include flexible sigmoidoscopy, fecal occult blood test, and double-contrast barium enema.

Myth:  If I have a polyp that means I have cancer.

Fact:   A polyp is a benign growth, not cancer. But, it may have the potential to become cancerous if left unchecked.

Myth:  I am going to die if I am diagnosed with colorectal cancer.

Fact:   When detected in the early stages, the five-year survival rate for colorectal cancer is 90 percent.

For more information about colorectal cancer, talk with your doctor or call 205-877-2709 for a free referral to a physician near you.

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