Published on June 22, 2020

Colorectal Cancer: Myth versus Reality

illustration of colon

We know colorectal cancer can be a uncomfortable topic to discuss, but it's responsible for over 50,000 deaths each year and there are steps you can take to help reduce your risk. There are also many myths about the disease, screenings, and the symptoms that we'd like to dispel.

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 147,950 cases of colorectal cancer in 2020, further highlighting the importance of ensuring you get screened when you should.

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. We find that 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.

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
  • Fatigue

Colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer deaths for men and women combined in the United States, and with an increasing number of younger adults being diagnosed- it's now more important than ever to ensure you're getting your screenings when recommended. Be sure to talk with your doctor about your personal risk factors to better determine when you should schedule your screening.

Our providers at Attleboro Gastroenterology Associates are committed to providing the highest quality health care to adult patients. To schedule an appointment with our providers, please call 508-222-2021.