Colorectal Cancer- Myth versus Reality
By: Drs. David Cohen, Tanvi Khurana, and Nithin Karanth, board certified gastroenterologists at Attleboro Gastroenterology Associates
With March coming to a close, we would be remiss not to talk about the sometimes uncomfortable topic of colorectal cancer and the importance of screenings. For the past four weeks, awareness has been brought to the disease that is responsible for over 50,000 deaths each year. Today, we want to dispel common myths surrounding colorectal cancer.
When To See A Doctor
Many people don't recognize or dismiss symptoms that could signal colorectal cancer. Regardless of your age, if you experience any of the symptoms below for more than two weeks, talk to your doctor.
- Rectal bleeding
- Blood in the stool or toilet
- Changes in bowel pattern, such as increased diarrhea or constipation
- A change in the size or shape of stool
- Discomfort or urge to have a bowel movement when there is no need
- Abdominal pain or a cramping in the lower stomach
- Bloating or full feeling
- Change in appetite
- Weight loss without dieting
Myth: There is nothing I can do to prevent getting colorectal cancer.
Reality: There are many things that you can do to reduce your risk. Exercising and adopting a healthy diet - one that is rich in fruits and vegetables and low in fats can work to prevent numerous medical conditions, one of them being colorectal cancer. And while there are risk factors such as genetics, inflammatory bowel diseases, and family history that are not preventable, screenings can help identify and remove non-cancerous growths before they have the chance to develop into cancer.
Myth: Colorectal Cancer only affects men.
Reality: Colorectal cancer does not discriminate and affects both men and women at staggering rates. It is the third most common cancer, excluding skin cancer, diagnosed in both men and women. According to the National Cancer Institute, it is estimated that there will be 101,420 cases of colon cancer and 44, 180 cases of rectal cancer in 2019, equating to a total of 145,600 new cases of colorectal cancer this year. This further signifies the importance of ensuring that everyone gets screened.
Myth: I only need a screening if I have symptoms
Reality: Colorectal cancer often has no symptoms in its early stages which is why preventative screenings are so important. The American Cancer Society now recommends that men and women 45 years and older be screened regularly for colorectal cancer.
Myth: My family has no history of colon cancer, I won't get it.
Reality: Most colorectal cancers are diagnosed in individuals who have no family history of the disease. Having a family history of the disease only indicates that you may need to begin screening earlier than the recommended guideline of 45 years old.
Myth: The only screening for colorectal cancer is a colonoscopy.
Reality: While widely considered the gold standard for colorectal cancer screening, the colonoscopy is not the only option available. There are other tests available such as stool based tests and other exams. Talk with your doctor about your personal risk factors and what your options are to determine the best test for you. The important thing is that you get your screening done.
Myth: A colonoscopy is painful.
Reality: This is a common misconception. During a colonoscopy you are kept comfortable under sedation to minimize any discomfort. The procedure itself is approximately 30 minutes long. Most patients are actually more concerned about the prep required the day before which involves forgoing solid foods and cleansing the bowels. While this will result in you spending more time in the bathroom, it's important to do to ensure that your doctor can see the lining of your colon properly.
Myth: A polyp is another word for colon cancer.
Reality: A polyp is a pre-cancerous lesion or growth that can develop into colon cancer. When a polyp is found, it's removed and sent for further testing. Removing a polyp in its early stages helps prevent the progression of growth into colon cancer. Many polyps are benign and require no further treatment after being removed during the colonoscopy, however there are cases where cancer is found and further surgery and treatment is necessary.
Colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer deaths in the United States, and with an increasing number of younger adults being diagnosed - it's now more important than ever to ensure that folks are getting their screenings when they should. Consider your age, your risk factors, and schedule an appointment today if you fall within the guidelines.
Attleboro Gastroenterology Associates is an affiliate of Sturdy Memorial Hospital. If you would like to learn more about the digestive health services offered, please visit sturdymemorial.org or call AGA at 508-222-2021 to schedule an appointment today.