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All About Cancer

All About Cancer

Colorectal (Colon) Cancer Myths versus Reality

Myth: There is nothing I can do about getting colorectal cancer.

Reality: Few people know that colorectal cancer may be preventable. A low-fat diet, high in vegetables and fruits, and exercise may reduce your risk of developing the disease. Since most colorectal cancer develops from non-cancerous polyps - growths on the lining of the colon and rectum - screening methods can detect and remove polyps BEFORE they become cancerous.


Myth: Colorectal cancer is fatal.

Reality: Colorectal cancer is curable when detected early. Ninety-one percent of patients with localized colorectal cancer (confined to the colon or rectum) are alive five years after diagnosis. But only 37 percent of all colorectal cancers are diagnosed at this stage. The remaining 63 percent of patients come to the doctor when the disease has spread beyond the wall of the colon or rectum or to distant parts of the body.


Myth: Screening is only necessary for individuals who have symptoms.

Reality: Since early colorectal cancer often has no symptoms, it is important to obtain regular screenings to detect these cancers.   Screening is checking for cancer in a person with no symptoms. Men and women who are 50 or older should get screened regularly for colorectal cancer. Men and women who are at high risk because they have a personal or family history of colorectal cancer or polyps, or a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, might need to be screened before age 50. In addition, women who have a personal or family history of ovarian, endometrial or breast cancer may need to be screened before age 50. Talk to your colorectal surgeon or other healthcare professional about when you should begin screening.


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

Reality: About 75 percent of all new cases of colorectal cancer occur in individuals with no known risk factors for the disease, other than being 50 or older. A family history just means you may need to start your screening earlier or do it more frequently.


Myth: Colorectal cancer strikes only older, white men.

Reality: Colorectal cancer strikes both women and men. It is estimated that 67,000 new cases of colorectal cancer will be diagnosed in women this year - it is the third leading cause of cancer death among women. And it is estimated that more than 62,000 new cases of colorectal cancer will be diagnosed in men this year. Of the approximately 56,000 people who will die from the disease this year, slightly more than half will be women. African Americans and Hispanics are more likely to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in its advanced stages.


Myth: Colorectal cancer screening is not covered under most health plans.

Reality: The Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) expanded Medicare coverage in 1998 to include colorectal cancer screenings. Many commercial health plans also cover the cost of screening.


Myth: Colonoscopy is a difficult procedure to undergo.

Reality: The colonoscopy procedure is not painful. Patients are sedated during the procedure to minimize any discomfort, which is mostly from the gas inserted to visualize the inside of the colon. While almost all patients have the procedure under sedation, there is actually some evidence that the procedure is tolerable even without sedation. The preparation itself (or “cleaning out”) the day before is a feared part of the procedure. While you will spend extra time in the bathroom eliminating all the stool, this preparation is extremely important as it allows your doctor to see the lining of the intestine clearly. An inadequate preparation can lead to missed lesions or a need to repeat the procedure.


Myth: Having a polyp means I have cancer and need surgery.

Reality: A polyp is a precancerous lesion that can progress to colon cancer.  If these polyps are detected and removed before this progression, colon cancer can be prevented.    This is how colonoscopy and sigmoidoscopy prevent deaths from colon cancer – a fact that has been well demonstrated over time. Most benign polyps are completely treated by removal during the colonoscopy. Even large ones can be removed endoscopically though you may need a colorectal surgeon or specialist to perform these procedures. It is true that if cancer is found within the polyp, you may need surgery to remove that part of the colon.  Even if you need surgery, many procedures today can be performed using laparoscopic or minimally invasive approaches, which minimize recovery time, pain, and have many other benefits. Ask your specialty-trained colorectal surgeon today about which approach is right for you.

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