12 Myths about Colon Cancer

Armen Hareyan's picture

Colon 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.

It doesn't have to be that way.

"Most colorectal cancers are predictable by early diagnosis and screening. If colonoscopy can identify a problem early, we could completely prevent colorectal cancer," says D. Kim Turgeon, M.D., clinical associate professor of gastroenterology at the University of Michigan Medical School.


In fact, colorectal cancer screening prevents more deaths due to early detection than breast or prostate cancer screening.

Here, experts from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center address some of the common myths and misconceptions about colorectal cancer.

Myth 1: Colon cancer is a white man's disease.
Truth: 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.

Myth 2: I don't have any symptoms, so I must not have colon cancer.
Truth: "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 Emina Huang, M.D., assistant professor of surgery at the U-M 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 cancer.

Myth 3: Colonoscopy is difficult to prepare for.
Truth: 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