Screening for colorectal cancer, maybe more than any other form of cancer, has the potential to identify cancers and pre-cancers, when they are most treatable, and save lives. And yet…about 4 out of 10 Americans ages 50-75, don’t follow screening recommendations. Since many of these “unscreened” Americans may be uninformed or under-informed about the risks of colorectal cancer, and the procedures used to screen for it, in this article, Well-Being attempts to bring some truth to light that we hope will encourage more Mississippians to get screened for this deadly, but often treatable cancer.
Colorectal cancer is a leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, with approximately 150,000 cases of colon cancer diagnosed each year. But colon cancer can be prevented if polyps are discovered and removed early because tumors may take years to develop. Unfortunately too many people remain largely unscreened due, in part, to poor public awareness and avoidance of current screening techniques.
Common Myths vs. the Truth About Colorectal Cancer:
MYTH: Colorectal cancer is a man’s disease.
TRUTH: Colorectal cancer is just as common among women as men. Each year, about 150,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and more than 50,000 die from it.
MYTH: Colorectal cancer cannot be prevented.
TRUTH: In many cases colorectal cancer can be prevented. Colorectal cancer almost always starts with a small growth called a polyp. If the polyp is found early, doctors can remove it and stop colorectal cancer before it starts. These tests can find polyps: double contrast barium enema, flexible sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, or CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy). Talk to your doctor about which test is best for you.
MYTH: African Americans are not at risk for colorectal cancer.
TRUTH: African-American men and women are diagnosed with and die from colorectal cancer at higher rates than men and women of any other US racial or ethnic group. The reason for this is not yet understood.
MYTH: Age doesn’t matter when it comes to getting colorectal cancer.
TRUTH: More than 90% of all colorectal cancers are found in people who are 50 and older. For this reason, the American Cancer Society recommends you start getting checked for this cancer when you are 50. People who are at a higher risk for colorectal cancer – such as those who have colon or rectal cancer in their families – may need to begin testing when they are younger. Ask your doctor when you should start getting tested and how often you should be tested.
MYTH: The preparations and the screening procedure itself are so unpleasant it is not worth going through.
TRUTH: First, the preparations required for a colonoscopy are changing. Today, most preparations require drinking half of the volume of preparation solution that once was prescribed, and minor flavoring has been added to some preparation solutions to make them more palatable. It is also now possible to split the preparation, doing half the night before and half in the morning, five hours or so before the colonoscopy. Secondly, on the day of the colonoscopy, you will receive medication to help you relax. Most people fall asleep and do not remember much about the test when they wake up.
Other ways to help lower your chances of getting colorectal cancer:
Get to and stay at a healthy weight throughout life; stay lean without being underweight.
Be physically active; limit the time you spend sitting, lying down, watching TV, etc.
Eat at least 2½ cups of vegetables and fruits each day.
Choose whole grains over refined grain products.
Limit the amount of red meat and processed meat you eat.
If you drink alcohol, limit the amount to 1 drink per day for women, 2 per day for men.
Don’t use tobacco in any form.
Finally, and most importantly, removing polyps can help prevent colorectal cancer from ever starting. And cancers found in an early stage, while they are small and before they have spread, are more easily treated. Nine out of 10 people whose colon cancer is discovered early will be alive 5 years later, and many will live a normal life span. Getting screened for colon cancer is not only worth it, it is one of the most valuable things you can do for yourself and your family. Source: The American Cancer Society
The American Cancer Society recommends that beginning at age 50, both men and women at average risk for developing colorectal cancer should use one of the screening tests:
• Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years*
• Colonoscopy every 10 years
• Double-contrast barium enema every 5 years*
• CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy) every 5 years*
* Colonoscopy should be done if test results are positive