12 Myths About Colon Cancer
cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United
States, and the No. 1 cause of cancer death among non-smokers. More
than 150,000 Americans will be diagnosed with colon
cancer this year, and 52,000 will die from the disease.
doesn’t have to be that way.
colorectal cancers are predictable by early diagnosis and screening. If
colonoscopy can identify a problem early, we could completely prevent
colorectal cancer," says Dr.
D. Kim Turgeon, clinical associate professor of
gastroenterology at the University of
Michigan Medical School.
fact, colorectal cancer screening prevents more deaths due to early
detection than breast or prostate cancer screening.
experts from the University
Comprehensive Cancer Center address some of the common myths
and misconceptions about colorectal cancer.
1: Colon cancer is a white man’s disease.
Colon cancer affects both men and women equally, and it affects
people of all races. In 2007, the American Cancer Society estimates,
55,290 men and 57,050 women will be diagnosed with colon cancer. About
equal numbers will die from the disease: 52,000 Americans altogether.
The No. 1 risk factor for colon cancer is age.
2: I don’t have any symptoms, so I must
not have colon cancer.
"One of the most common misconceptions is that symptoms will be
evident if a person has colorectal cancer. In fact, the most common
symptom is no symptoms at all," says Dr.
assistant professor of surgery at the University of
Michigan Medical School. More than
half of people diagnosed with colon cancer have no symptoms. Symptoms
such as a change in stool, rectal bleeding, abdominal pain and
unexplained weight loss can all signal colon cancer. But once these
symptoms begin to develop, it may be a sign of more advanced disease.
Half of people diagnosed after symptoms develop will die from colon
3: Colonoscopy is difficult to prepare for.
Preparing for a colonoscopy involves cleaning the colon with the
help of prescription and over-the-counter medications. Typically these
are liquid drinks that must be consumed a day or two before the
procedure. "People shouldn’t be afraid of it because they
don’t want to drink the laxative. There are many more options
so you can find something that is tolerable," Turgeon says. Ask your
doctor or pharmacist about your options.
4: Colonoscopy is unpleasant and uncomfortable.
It’s not as bad as you think. Most people agree the
prep is the worst part (see Myth 3). During the actual procedure,
patients are sedated to eliminate discomfort. The procedure itself
takes 15-30 minutes and you can resume normal activities the next day.
5: I saw Katie Couric get a colonoscopy on the Today Show, so I should
get one too.
Colonoscopy screening is recommended for men and women beginning
at age 50, unless other risk factors exist. If you’re 50 or
older, talk to your doctor about screening. If you are younger than 50
but have other risk factors – such as family history,
obesity, smoking, ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
– talk to your doctor about your screening needs. But
remember, age is the most significant risk factor for colon cancer.
6: Colonoscopy is the only way to screen for colon cancer.
There are several screening options for colorectal cancer,
including flexible sigmoidoscopy, fecal occult blood test and
double-contrast barium enema. But colonoscopy is considered the gold
standard. It detects more cancers, examines the entire colon, and can
be used for screening, diagnosis and removing polyps in one visit.
7: A polyp means I have cancer.
Polyps are benign growths that, if left unchecked, have the
potential to develop into cancer. Polyps can be easily removed during
colonoscopy. Not all polyps are pre-cancerous.
8: Colonoscopy is just a screening technique.
Colonoscopy is an all-in-one tool. It can find and remove polyps
and small cancers all during one procedure. If your colonoscopy reveals
a polyp, your doctor will remove it immediately. By removing the polyp
at this stage, it prevents it from becoming cancerous. If colonoscopy
reveals cancerous lesions, further treatments may be necessary.
9: If I have colon cancer, it means I am dying.
When colon cancer is caught early, it has a 95 percent survival
rate. That’s why screening is so important. Once colon cancer
has spread to the liver, it’s usually deadly, with only a 9
percent survival rate. But even then, treatments are improving.
Radiation oncologists at University of Michigan have developed a method to shrink tumors
that spread to the liver, in some cases allowing them to be removed
with surgery. This has led to higher survival rates even in the most
10: Surgery will be disfiguring and recovery painful.
New surgical advances allow for minimally invasive procedures
that leave only a small scar. Patients undergoing laparoscopic surgery
may have an easier recovery than patients who have open surgery. Some
evidence suggests cancer control is better with a minimally invasive
11: If I have colon surgery, I’ll need a
A colostomy, in which surgeons create an artificial, external
method to collect excrement, is rarely done anymore. Surgical
techniques have improved so that the cancer can be effectively removed
while sparing the rectum. In the past, cancers within 4 inches of the
anus routinely required removing the anus for effective surgical
control. Now, 80 percent of these cancers may be effectively removed
while sparing the anus.
12: Few research advances focus on colon cancer.
Much exciting research is occurring in colon cancer. At University
research has focused on improving radiation techniques, including using
radiation to shrink tumors that have spread to the liver. Researchers
are also working with colon cancer stem cells, the small number of
cells within a tumor that fuel its growth. It’s believed that
identifying the cancer stem cells will allow more effective drugs to be
developed. Other research is looking at multiple genes involved in
colon cancer and at improving screening techniques so more cancers can
be detected early. This includes searching for markers in blood, stool
or urine that might provide an easier screening tool to early signs of
colon cancer. In the area of prevention, researchers are looking at the
effects of curcumin (found in curry), resveratrol (found in red wine),
ginger and the Mediterranean diet on the growth and development of
information about colon cancer call the Cancer AnswerLine at
information about colon
more information on the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer
Center, visit www.cancer.med.umich.edu