Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer diagnosed in the United States. It is the second leading cause of cancer-related and resulted in nearly 50,000 deaths last year.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Colorectal cancer arises from pre-cancerous growths or polyps that grow in the colon. When detected early, polyps can be removed, halting their progression to colorectal cancer. While early detection of any cancer is important, prevention is powerful. Yet for many reasons, many people don’t seek the preventative care they need.
To help you better understand colon cancer and how to help prevent it, we’ve debunked some common myths about the disease and its screening tests.
Myth: Colorectal cancer is a man’s disease.
Truth: Colorectal cancer is equally common among women and men. The American Cancer Society reports about 71,000 men and 64,000 women are diagnosed with colorectal cancer in the United States each year. Colon cancer affects all races, ethnicities and genders. Age is the primary risk factor.
Myth: I’m under 50. I don’t need screening.
Truth: The American College of Gastroenterology (ACG) recommends screening for colorectal cancer starting at age 50 for people without a family history of colorectal cancer. African American men and women should begin screening at age 45. People with a family history of the disease and those suffering from ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease may need to start screening before the age of 50. Ask your doctor when and how often you should be tested.
Myth: Colon cancer is fatal.
Truth: Survival is greatly improved when diagnosed at an early stage. That’s why it’s vital to get screened. Colorectal cancer usually starts with a polyp. A polyp is a small, benign growth that doctors can remove during a colonoscopy. If left untreated, the cancer can grow and spread to other organs which dramatically decreases chances of survival.
Myth: A colonoscopy is only for screening, which means I will need to return for another procedure.
Truth: Doctors use colonoscopy to both detect and treat polyps and small cancers. If your doctor finds a polyp, he or she can remove it immediately. The doctor can also remove small cancerous lesions. Some cases require further treatment or a follow-up screening. If no polyps are identified and no family history is present, the recommended screening interval is 10 years.
Myth: Colonoscopy is the only way to screen, and it’s awful.
Truth: Most patients say the most unpleasant aspect of colonoscopy is the bowel preparation, not the procedure itself. The majority of colonoscopies are performed under sedation. Your doctor will give you instructions for preparation. Usually this involves a fast (nothing but clear liquids after midnight) and a laxative. It’s important to have a clear colon so your doctor can accurately and completely perform the procedure.
During a colonoscopy, your doctor inserts a flexible tube into your colon to examine its lining. You may feel some mild pressure or cramping, but your doctor will give you a sedative to ease discomfort. The procedure takes anywhere from 15 to 40 minutes, and most patients are completely asleep during the examination.
Depending on your specific needs, doctors can monitor colon health by other means. Alternatives include stool tests, flexible sigmoidoscopy (examines lower colon), double-contrast barium enema (involves colon X-rays), and computed tomographic colonography (a CT scan for your colon).
Myth: There’s nothing I can do to prevent colon cancer.
Truth: A healthy lifestyle helps lower your cancer risk. If you haven’t already, put these strategies into practice:
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Exercise at least three to five times a week.
- Eat mostly fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and limit junk food.
- Limit red meat, processed meat, and saturated fat.
- Limit alcohol to one drink a day for women; two for men.
- Do not smoke.
Is it time for a colon cancer screening? To schedule an appointment, or for more information about colon cancer and other gastrointestinal diseases, call Dr. Nicholas Martinez at the Gastroenterology Clinic of San Antonio at (210) 615-8308 or visit gastroclinicsa.com.