According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 100,000 new cases of colon cancer will be diagnosed in the United States in 2021. About 50,000 people will die of colon cancer in the U.S. this year. Colon cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the large intestine (colon). The colon is the final part of the digestive tract. Colon cancer typically affects older adults, though it can happen at any age. It usually begins as small, noncancerous (benign) clumps of cells called polyps that form inside the colon. Over time some of these polyps can become colon cancers.Polyps may be small and produce few if any, symptoms. For this reason, doctors recommend regular screening tests to help prevent colon cancer by identifying and removing polyps before they turn into cancer.
If colon cancer develops, many treatments are available to help control it, including surgery, radiation therapy, and drug treatments, such as chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy.
Colon cancer is sometimes called colorectal cancer, a term that combines colon cancer and rectal cancer, which begins in the rectum.
The truth is, colon cancer can sometimes be prevented. Know the facts, so you understand the truth about colon cancer. In honor of Colon Cancer Awareness month in March, here are four colon cancer myths debunked.
Myth: Genetics determine risk
More than half of colon cancer cases cannot be traced back to a specific cause. A genetic predisposition to colon cancer is vital to note, but it’s not the only risk factor. Other risk factors include:
- Eating a high-fat diet
- Prolonged consumption of red and processed meat
- Being overweight
- Heavy alcohol use
“Several lifestyle-related factors have been linked to colorectal cancer”. “The links between diet, weight, and exercise and colorectal cancer risk are some of the strongest for any type of cancer.”
Myth: Women don’t get colon cancer
Although slightly more common in men (1 in 21 will develop the disease in his lifetime), women have almost the same risk of developing colon cancer (1 in 23), according to the American Cancer Society. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the only types of cancer diagnosed more often in women are breast and lung cancers.
No matter your gender, the American Cancer Society recommends everyone be screened for colon cancer starting at age 50, repeating various screening tests regularly after that. Those at high risk for colon cancer should be screened earlier and more often. Talk with your doctor about the most appropriate schedule and screenings.
Myth: Colon cancer is a death sentence
As with most types of cancer, colon cancer advances in stages. The earlier it’s caught, the more likely it is treatable. The American Cancer Society says people with stage I colon cancer have a 92 percent five-year relative survival rate, which compares closely to the survival rates of people without cancer.
“For example, if the five-year relative survival rate for a specific type and stage of cancer is 90 percent, it means that people who have that cancer are, on average, about 90 percent as likely as people who don’t have that cancer to live for at least five years after being diagnosed,” according to cancer.org.
However, the American Cancer Society says even people with stage IV colon cancer often have several treatment options. So, if you’ve been procrastinating, now is an excellent time to schedule a screening.
Myth: Colon cancer is for old people
Although colon cancer rates have been decreasing, thanks to people getting screened more often than in the past, a 2021 study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute shows colon cancer rates in young people have increased.
Specifically, the study found that people born around 1990 are twice as likely to get colon cancer as people born around 1950 and four times as possible to get rectal cancer. The researchers recommend people should consider being screened before age 50. It’s also a good idea to know the symptoms such as:
- A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool, that lasts for more than a few days
- A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that is not relieved by having one
- Rectal bleeding with bright red blood
- Blood in the stool, which might make it look dark brown or black
- Cramping or abdominal (belly) pain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Losing weight without trying
No matter your age, don’t put off getting that colonoscopy or having a discussion with a doctor, especially if you’ve experienced any symptoms.