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Myths and Facts About Colonoscopy and Colorectal Cancer

Myths and Facts About Colonoscopy and Colorectal Cancer

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, an annual rallying point for patients, caregivers and survivors to increase awareness of colorectal cancer, cancer screening and lifestyle choices that can help prevent this disease. Below are myths and facts about steps you can take that just might save your life.

Myth: Colon cancer is really rare.

Fact: Colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer, and both men and women are at risk. A screening colonoscopy can detect precancerous growths (called polyps), so those who aren’t screened are at an increased risk of developing this life-threatening disease.

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

Fact: Colon cancer is associated with lifestyle choices: exercising, eating a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight are a few simple steps people can take to reduce the risk of colon cancer. Obesity, physical inactivity, consumption of red meats (beef and pork, for example) and processed meats (like lunch/deli meats, hot dogs and sausage), a diet low in fiber, fruits and vegetables and high in fat, smoking, and alcohol use are all associated with an increased risk of colon cancer.

Myth: People under 50 never get colorectal cancer.

Fact: Anyone can get colon cancer although it is most frequently diagnosed in those over 50. In 2018, the American Cancer Society updated its guideline for colorectal cancer screening. The new recommendations call for screening to begin at age 45 for those at average risk of developing colorectal cancer; those at higher risk should be screened sooner. If you are over 45 and have not had a screening colonoscopy, discuss scheduling yours with your Primary Care Provider.

A recent study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that researchers have seen an increasing risk of colorectal cancer in young and middle-age adults. In fact, colorectal cancer is frequently more deadly in younger adults since they are 58 percent more likely to be diagnosed with the disease in its later stages.

Anyone of any age who is experiencing symptoms of colorectal cancer should consult their PCP and schedule a colonoscopy with a gastroenterologist. The most common signs and symptoms include:

  • Change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool, that last for more than a few days
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Dark stools or blood in your stools
  • Cramping and/or abdominal (belly) pain
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Unintended weight loss
  • A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that is not relieved by doing so.

Myth: Having a colonoscopy is a painful, difficult experience.

Fact: Having a colonoscopy is easier than you may have been led to believe. Don’t believe us?

Beau had a colonoscopy at Valley Health in 2018 and has agreed to “tell it like it is.” You can read her story below.

“No big deal!” A Valley Health patient shares about her colonoscopy.

Beau had a screening colonoscopy at Winchester Medical Center in 2018. Like many, she was a little apprehensive. Here is her story:

Some people find it a little hard to talk about colonoscopy because the pre-procedure preparation is about bowel movements and other personal topics. But I had talked with my PCP and she strongly recommended that I have the procedure, so I stopped putting it off. I’m just going to tell it like it is…and it really was not bad at all!

One day before the procedure I had to go on a liquid diet, so I consumed broth and jello instead of eating solid foods. The night before my colonoscopy, I had to drink a beverage that cleaned out my intestinal tract. Yes, I did have to stay home, near a bathroom, but within a few hours I was done with “toilet time.”

The next morning I reported to the Endoscopy Center at Winchester Medical Center, and after checking in, I changed into a hospital gown. After a quick check up with one of the nurses, I was wheeled into the procedure room. I was asked to roll on my side, was given an IV sedative in my arm, and the next thing I knew, it was over! Within an hour, I was dressed and sitting across the desk from the physician who performed the colonoscopy. He told me that he had removed a polyp and that it would be tested for cancer in the lab.

A few days later, the lab notified me that no cancer was found in the polyp and I got the “all clear.” It was a relief to get the test results, but it was even more of a relief to know that I had taken an important step for my own good health….and in the process had discovered the procedure was no big deal!

Myth: A colonoscopy is the only test that can detect colon cancer.

Fact: While a colonoscopy is the gold standard--and most widely recommended--test for the detection of colon cancer in its earliest and most treatable form, there are other options available. Stool tests and virtual colonoscopy can also be used. If you can’t –or won’t—consider a colonoscopy, discuss these alternative screening options with your PCP.

To learn more about screening colonoscopy and related services, click here.