Open Accessibility Menu

Busting 5 colon cancer myths

Busting 5 colon cancer myths

Hey y'all, did you know March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month? All month long, we’re sharing insights and info about this type of cancer, and what people can do to stay healthy. And today, we’re going full Myth Busters by breaking down five of the most common misconceptions about colon cancer.

MORE: It’s time to stop putting off this important cancer screening

Hold on, can I get a colon cancer refresh?

Of course! Colon cancer, also referred to as colorectal cancer or rectal cancer, is pretty much what it sounds like: a type of cancer that affects your colon. It happens when normal cells mutate and start spreading out of control. These mutated cells can clump together, creating a polyp that forms along the colon’s inner lining. If they aren’t removed, there’s a risk that polyps can become cancerous.

Symptoms of colon cancer include:

  • Change in bowel habits, including diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool that lasts for more than a few days
  • Feeling like you need to have a bowel movement, but not being relieved by doing so
  • Blood in the stool
  • Cramping or stomach pain
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Unintended weight loss

While these symptoms can be a red flag for colon cancer, they can also indicate a variety of other issues. If you notice any of the above, be sure to talk to your doctor right away.

MORE: Everything you need to know about colorectal cancer

Ok, I’m ready to bust some myths.

Great, us too. Even though colon cancer is super prevalent (in fact, it’s the second leading cause of cancer death in the US) there is still a ton of misinformation out there. We’re here to help set the record straight, so you can be as informed as possible about this cancer, your risk factors, and what you can do to prevent it. Let’s get to it.

x-mark icon

Myth #1: Colon cancer is a men’s disease.

This is false, y’all.

check icon

Fact: Colon cancer can strike women and men alike.

According to the American Cancer Society, more than 64,000 women are diagnosed with colon cancer in the US every year. That’s why it’s so important for everyone, regardless of gender, to know the warning signs and keep up with recommended screenings.

x-mark icon

Myth #2: Only people over 50 need to worry about colon cancer.

It’s time to retire this myth.

check icon

Fact: Unfortunately, cases of colon cancer in younger adults are on the rise.

While most cases occur in older folks, there has been a 51% increase in cases among those younger than 50 in recent years. This increase has led many healthcare providers to start urging younger patients to start getting screened earlier, particularly if they have risk factors for developing colon cancer.

While there is no one reason that colon cancer cases are increasing in young adults, there are many steps people can do to lower risk at any age: maintain a healthy lifestyle, watch out for concerning symptoms, and start a conversation with your doc early about whether it’s time to start screening.

x-mark icon

Myth #3: Screening is only necessary if you have symptoms.

Another false one, folks.

check icon

Fact: Experts recommend all adults—even perfectly healthy ones—should start screening for colon cancer at age 45 and repeat every 10 years afterwards.

If risk factors are present, your doctor might recommend you start earlier. Risk factors include:

  • Family history of colon cancer
  • 50+ years old
  • Being overweight
  • Being sedentary and not getting enough exercise
  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol excessively
  • Unhealthy diets that include a lot of red or processed meats
  • Personal history of type 2 diabetes, Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis
  • Some inherited genetic syndromes like Lynch syndrome (HNPCC) or familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)

x-mark icon

Myth #4: Colonoscopies are always painful and difficult.

This is a myth we are happy to bust.

check icon

Fact: For most patients, colonoscopies are painless.

FYI, a colonoscopy is the most standard screening test for colon cancer. It’s an outpatient procedure where the patient is comfortably sedated while a small, flexible tube is inserted via the rectum. This lighted tube lets your healthcare provider view images of the inside of your colon, so they can locate abnormalities. If they find a polyp, they can remove it and send anything suspicious to a lab for testing.

The worst part of getting a colonoscopy is the prep that patients are required to do before, involving a bowel clean out that your doctor will provide instructions for. While a little uncomfortable, it’s worth it if you can catch colon cancer early, as early detection provides the best chance for treatment.

x-mark icon

Myth #5: There’s nothing I can do to prevent colon cancer.

Thankfully, this myth is completely false!

check icon

Fact: Many cases of colon cancer are preventable, and there are tons of steps you can take to reduce your risk.

Here are the top doctor recommended prevention strategies:

  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet including fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, and high-fiber foods
  • Limit processed and red meats, and avoid high-fat foods
  • Get plenty of physical activity
  • Maintain a body weight that is healthy for you
  • Avoid smoking, and limit drinking alcohol
  • Take calcium supplements if your doctor recommends it

We hope you enjoyed busting these colon cancer myths with us. If you still have questions, concerns, or want to set up a screening, schedule with our primary care providers today

About Dr. Bartholomew

Lauren Bartholomew

Lauren Bartholomew, MD is a Primary Care provider at West Jefferson Medical Center. She values the deep and trusting long term patient-physician relationship that stems from caring for the whole family, from infancy through adulthood.