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Five Myths About Colorectal Cancer

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The following content is provided by the American Cancer Society.

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In many cases, colorectal cancer can be prevented. Still, it’s one of the 5 most common cancers in men and women in the United States. Colorectal cancer is also one of the leading causes of cancer death in the United States. Don’t let these 5 common myths stop you from getting the lifesaving tests you need, when you need them.

Myth: Colorectal cancer is a man’s disease.

Truth: Colorectal cancer is just as common among women as men. Each year, about 150,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and about 50,000 die from the disease.

Myth: Colorectal cancer cannot be prevented.

Truth: In many cases colorectal cancer can be prevented. Colorectal cancer almost always starts with a small growth called a polyp. If the polyp is found early, doctors can remove it and stop colorectal cancer before it starts. These tests can find polyps: double contrast barium enema, flexible sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, or CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy).

To help lower your chances of getting colorectal cancer:

  • Get to and stay at a healthy weight.
  • Be physically active.
  • Eat a diet with a lot of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and less red or processed meat.
  • Limit the amount of alcohol you drink.
  • Don’t use tobacco in any form.

Myth: African Americans are not at risk for colorectal cancer.

Truth: African-American men and women are diagnosed with and die from colorectal cancer at higher rates than men and women of any other US racial or ethnic group. The reason for this is not yet understood.

Myth: Age doesn’t matter when it comes to getting colorectal cancer.

Truth: More than 90% of all colorectal cancers are found in people who are 50 and older. For this reason, the American Cancer Society recommends you start getting checked for this cancer when you are 50. People who are at a higher risk for colorectal cancer — such as those who have colon or rectal cancer in their families — may need to begin testing when they are younger. Ask your doctor when you should start getting tested.

Myth: It’s better not to get tested for colorectal cancer because it’s deadly anyway.

Truth: Colorectal cancer is often highly treatable. If it is found and treated early (while it is small and before it has spread), the 5-year survival rate is about 90%. But because many people are not getting tested, only about 4 out of 10 are diagnosed at this early stage when treatment is most likely to be successful.

To find out if you are at an increased risk for colorectal cancer and what you can do to try to keep from getting this disease, please read Colorectal Cancer Early Detection.

Last Medical Review: 05/10/2011
Last Revised: 05/10/2011

Learn more about colon cancer at cancer.org/colon.

© American Cancer Society

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