MYTH: Colorectal cancer is a man’s disease.
FACT: In Malaysia, colorectal cancer is the second most common cancer in men and the third most common in women. Studies in 2012 showed an occurrence of 21.32 cases per 100,000 individuals.
MYTH: Colorectal cancer cannot be prevented.
FACT: In reality, if detected early, colon cancer can be prevented from reaching an advanced stage. Before the cancer develops, small swollen areas may appear on the lining of the colon and start to develop into what is known as polyps. While most polyps aren’t dangerous, some can grow larger over time and may develop into cancer. If the polyp is detected early through screening, doctors can remove them and stop colon cancer before it spreads any further. These tests can detect polyps: colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy, double-contrast barium enema, or CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy). Discuss with your doctor about which test is best for you.
There are other ways to help lower your chances of getting colorectal cancer:
- Try to maintain a healthy body weight throughout your life; ensure to stay lean without going underweight.
- Increase physical activity; reduce the time you spend watching TV, sitting, lying down etc.
- Include more fruits and vegetables in your diet - at least 2½ cups each day.
- Include whole foods rather than refined products.
- Reduce consumption of red meat and processed meat.
- If you drink alcohol, limit the amount to 1 drink per day for women, 2 per day for men.
- Avoid use of tobacco in any form.
MYTH: Age doesn’t matter when it comes to getting colorectal cancer.
FACT: More than 90% of all colon cancers are found in people who are 50 years and above. The American Cancer Society recommends that people start getting screened for colon cancer before they turn 50. People with a family history of colon or rectal cancer may be at a higher risk and should begin testing when they are younger. Talk to your doctor about getting screened and which screening method is right for you.
MYTH: It’s better to avoid getting tested for colorectal cancer because it is fatal anyway.
FACT: Colorectal cancer is often highly treatable. If it is detected and treatment started early on, (while it is still small and before it has spread), the 5-year relative survival rate is about 90%. Since many people are not getting tested in the correct way, it is seen that only 4 out of 10 are diagnosed at an early stage when treatment is most likely to be successful.
MYTH: Screening for colon cancer is not necessary if your bowel movements are regular and are feeling alright
FACT: Colon cancer is a silent killer. Unfortunately, there are no hard symptoms that we can rely on. It is said that when there are symptoms, the cancer itself may be at an advanced stage. When colon cancer is detected early, most people are cured. However, if it is detected at a later stage, the chances for cure are very slim.
Even though colon cancer usually doesn’t have any symptoms, there are a few warning signs that can indicate colon cancer. These symptoms include blood in the stools, pencil-thin stools, sudden change in bowel habits, unexplained abdominal pain, unexplained anaemia, as well as unexplained weight loss. These symptoms can also be due to other benign diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome, haemorrhoids, or inflammation in the colon. However, if you have any of these symptoms, do check with your physician.
Certain lifestyle habits can decrease or increase your risk for colorectal cancer. A diet that is rich in fat, smoking and excessive intake of alcohol may increase your risk of colorectal cancer. On the other hand, exercise and a healthy balanced diet containing the necessary vitamins and minerals can help in decreasing your chances of getting the cancer. However, nothing can replace regular health/cancer screenings. For those who do not have a family history of colon cancer can consider starting to get themselves screened from the age of 50 years. For those that have a family history, do speak to your health care provider about when you must start the screening. In fact, everyone should have a colonoscopy to screen for colon cancer, regardless of their lifestyle. Truth be told, colonoscopy can detect and allow for removal of benign growths or polyps in the colon even BEFORE the cancer develops.
MYTH: Once diagnosed with colon cancer, you cannot be cured.
FACT: Colon cancer can actually be prevented (see above) and can also be treated successfully if detected early. People who are diagnosed in the early stage have over 90% chance of cure and survival. In contrast, people in the advanced stages of colorectal cancer have a lower chance of a cure. It has been seen that less than 10% of the advanced stage patients maybe alive five years after the diagnosis. So, it is better to get yourselves screened for colorectal cancer earlier.
MYTH: You don't need to do a screening for colon cancer if there is no family history of colon cancer
FACT: Most people who have been diagnosed with colorectal cancer were found to not have it running in the family. It has been found that only 10-20 % of people that have colorectal cancer actually have a family member who had colorectal cancer. So you can still get the cancer even if it doesn’t run in the family.
MYTH: There is only one way to get yourself screened.
FACT: Screening procedures have improved and there are a number of different methods available. These alternative methods include – Stool DNA Tests, Colonoscopy, Flexible Sigmoidoscopy, CT Colonography, Fecal Immunochemical Test, and Fetal Occult Blood Test. Talk to your doctor about which screening method is right for you.
Take charge of your health with preventive cancer screening.
American Cancer Society
American Society for Gastrointestinal Society
by Hridya Anand
A biochemist by education who could never put what she studied to good use, finally found GetDoc as a medium to do what she loved - bring information to people using a forum that is dedicated to all things medical. View all articles by Hridya Anand.