Facts and myths about colorectal cancer

March 29, 2013 Darren Pollock, MD

March is Colorectal Awareness Month and I would like to invite anyone over the age of 50 who has not had their first screening colonoscopy to come in and get screened.

If Colorectal Awareness Month isn’t motivation enough to get you through our door, let me convince you by sharing a few facts and by debunking some of the myths surrounding colorectal cancer, colonoscopy, and the preparation:

  • Fact: In 2013, American Cancer Society reports that colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer-related cause of death in the United States.
  • Fact: Approximately 150,000 Americans will be diagnosed this year. 55,000 will
    die from colorectal cancer.
  • Myth: Colorectal Cancer is more common in men.
    (Fact: Colorectal cancer is diagnosed in as many women as men.)
  • Myth: No signs or symptoms mean I do not need to be screened.
    (Fact: Even if you are asymptomatic you should get screened. When a colorectal cancer is found and treated in its early stages, the 5 year survival rate is approximately 90%.)

Colonoscopy is still recognized as the best, and most accurate test used to diagnose colorectal cancer.

A colonoscope is a flexible, lighted instrument used to inspect the colon. The colonoscopy exam allows the doctor to look directly at the entire colon. The purpose of the exam is to locate any signs of colon cancer and remove any pre-cancerous growths, called polyps.

A polyp can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). To determine if a polyp is benign or malignant, it is usually necessary for a pathologist to examine the tissue microscopically. If left in place, polyps can grow larger and can become malignant over time.

  • Fact: Colonoscopy is both diagnostic and therapeutic. It is the only exam that allows removal of a growth and/or biopsy of suspicious tissue at the time of the procedure.
  • Myth: A colonoscopy is extremely painful.
    (Fact: Your doctor will administer medication intravenously that will  provide comfort and help you relax during the procedure.)
  • Fact: The average colonoscopy exam takes approximately 30-45 minutes. You will need an adult to drive you home after the procedure.
  • Myth: I will miss several days of work for preparation and recovery.
    (Fact: Most patients only miss one day of work; the day of the colonoscopy. A light day should be planned following the exam.)

For many, preparing for the colonoscopy is often the most unpleasant and complicated part of the process. There are many misconceptions about colonoscopy preparation.

  • Myth: Preparation begins several days prior to the procedure.
    (Fact: In most cases, patients may have a light breakfast the day before the exam, then follow a clear liquid diet regimen for the remainder of the day.)
  • Fact: Remaining hydrated is the key to successful bowel preparation. Gatorade®, Powerade® and other electrolyte drinks are essential in helping replenish fluids during the bowel cleansing process.
  • Myth: Bowel preparations require drinking a gallon of solution.
    (Fact: There are several bowel preparations available. Many of the preparations are low volume.)
  • Fact: The timing of the bowel prep can often be tailored around work and other activities.

Ed. note: Have you heard other myths or 'facts' about colonoscopies or colorectal cancer that you'd like to fact check? Let us know in the comments below!

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