There is much mystery to colorectal cancer, the third most common cancer diagnosed in the United States. Misconceptions, myths, and misinformation surround colorectal cancer, preventing people from accessing preventative care and treatment.
March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. For the 130,000 Americans diagnosed with colorectal cancer each year, we hope to clear up questions and concerns about the condition.
Let’s break down the facts.
Facts About Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer is diagnosed 135,430 times per year, with an estimated 50,260 people dying from the disease. The median age diagnosis is 67 years old, and the five-year survival rate after diagnosis is 65 percent. It’s a scary and elusive cancer, as many of them are, and the facts are simply lost in the stereotypes or misinformation.
Here are six debunked myths on colorectal cancer that can help you better understand the condition.
“I don’t need to be screened if I don’t have any symptoms.”
This myth could put patients in great danger, as screening has saved the lives of many people who didn’t realize they had colorectal cancer. Thanks to screening, 50 percent fewer people have died in most recent years.
Since many cancers don’t have screenings, it’s important to utilize the test in order to prevent cancer from spreading. Symptoms of colorectal cancer include bleeding of the rectum, changes in bowel movement, belly pain, and weight loss. However, colorectal cancer is a silent killer, and sometimes symptoms take years to appear.
“This is a death sentence.”
Not true. If it’s caught early through regular screening, colon cancer has a 95 percent survival rate. If the cancer spreads to the liver, it’s typically terminal with only nine percent survival. However, treatment and research are constantly evolving and improving. Survival rates are increasing.
“I won’t get cancer if I’m under fifty years old.”
Just because screening is recommended regularly at the age of fifty, that doesn’t mean that this type of cancer doesn’t affect younger people. Though uncommon, the rise in which colorectal cancer in young people is alarming to medical professionals.
The number of young people diagnosed with colorectal cancer is still small, but it has doubled since 1990, according to the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program.
The increase of colorectal cancer in young people is still a mystery, but researchers wonder if a change in diet is a possible contributing factor.
“Screenings are painful.”
A colonoscopy is the butt (no pun intended) of all jokes.
Although a colonoscopy is the most common form of screening for colorectal cancer in the U.S., people still dread the procedure. Of course, the description of the procedure isn’t all roses. A medical professional inserts an instrument into the rectum and intestines.
However, it’s not painful. For many patients, the only uncomfortable portion of the procedure is the preparation beforehand. Emptying the colon may involve an enema or laxative, as well as a special diet that involves drinking mostly liquid. The actual procedure involves sedation, so pain is nonexistent.
“Colorectal cancer only affects white men.”
Colon cancer affects both men and women, and people of all races. Approximately 55,290 men and 57,050 women are affected by this cancer. The most imperative factor of colon cancer and mortality is age.
For some reason, people associate colorectal cancer as a “man’s cancer.” However, women should also pursue routine screenings.
“Genetics play a role in colorectal cancer.”
Everyone should be screened, regardless of family history. Half of colon cancer cases don’t have a specific cause or genetic link.
While genetics may play a role for some, they don’t affect everyone. Causes of colon cancer include high-fat diets, consumption of red and processed meat, smoking, being overweight, and alcohol abuse. If you do have a family history of cancer, it’s important to begin screening at an earlier age.
Stay up-to-date on screenings and pay attention to your body to prevent colorectal cancer. Discuss testing with medical professionals to shift the conversation toward a healthier future.
S. Nicole Lane
S. Nicole Lane is a freelance journalist based in the Southside of Chicago where she covers women’s health, the LGBTQ voice, arts, and entertainment. Her byline can be found in Playboy, Rewire News, i-D, Broadly and various other corners of the internet. She is also a visual artist who works with small-scale sculptures.
Originally published at https://medtruth.com on March 31, 2019.