5 Myths About Colon Cancer

person standing at a crossroad
Thursday, March 1, 2018

March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month! Most often, a person with colon cancer has no early warning signs. If you have colon cancer and don’t get tested, you may miss out on the chance for early and more effective treatment. Nine out of every ten people with the disease can be cured when it is caught early. If you’re 50-74 years old with no family history, you should be regularly screening for colon cancer using a Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT).

But what if you don’t have any symptoms, or you don’t have a family history of the disease. Do you still need to get checked? To help answer these questions, check out the five myths about colon cancer below.

I don’t have any symptoms of colon cancer, so I don’t need to get checked.

Colon cancer (commonly called ‘colorectal cancer’ or ‘bowel cancer’) can grow slowly in the body for many years before it causes any symptoms. Getting checked helps find colon cancer early, when there are no uncomfortable symptoms such as persistent diarrhea and stomach pain, and when it is easier to treat. When colon cancer is caught early, nine out of 10 people with the disease can be cured.

Colon cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in men in Ontario. It is very important for men between the ages of 55 and 65 to get checked because the risk of colon cancer goes up over the age of 50. This group would strongly benefit from finding colon cancer early when it is easier to treat.

I don’t need to get checked for colon cancer because I have no family history of the disease.

Research shows that almost 70 percent of people diagnosed with colon cancer have no family history of the disease. Cancer Care Ontario defines people at average risk for getting colon cancer as those between the ages of 50 and 74 without a parent, brother, sister or child who has been diagnosed with the disease. People at average risk should get checked every two years with the safe and painless take-home test, called the fecal occult blood test (FOBT).

People with a family history of colon cancer in a parent, brother, sister or child are at increased risk for getting the disease. These individuals should get checked with a colonoscopy (instead of the FOBT) beginning at age 50, or 10 years earlier than the age at which their relative was diagnosed, whichever comes first.

Some people who have had growths (called polyps) removed from their colon, as well as people with inflammatory bowel disease (i.e., Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis), may be at increased risk for getting colon cancer and may also need to be checked regularly with colonoscopy instead of the FOBT.

Colon cancer is an older person’s disease, so I don’t need to worry about it yet.  

Colon cancer is typically slow to develop because growths on the lining of the colon (called polyps) can sometimes turn into cancer over time. It can take 10 years or more for the disease to develop to a stage where it is less likely that treatment will be successful. This is why it is so important to get checked beginning at the age of 50. When colon cancer is caught early, nine out of 10 people with the disease can be cured. If colon cancer is caught later, treating it is harder and beating it is less likely.

It is recommended that men and women between the ages of 50 and 74 with no symptoms or family history of colon cancer get checked every two years using the FOBT through ColonCancerCheck, Ontario’s colon cancer screening program.

Getting checked for colon cancer sounds uncomfortable and invasive. 

The FOBT is a safe and painless cancer screening test that checks a person’s stool (poop) for tiny drops of blood, which can be caused by colon cancer. The test can be done in the comfort and privacy of a person’s home, and it only takes a few minutes.

 Take-home FOBT kits are available from healthcare providers. People without a family doctor or nurse practitioner can get a kit through Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-828-9213, some community pharmacies and mobile screening coaches.

 Once the samples are collected, they can be sent to a lab for testing using the postage-paid envelope provided in the kit or by returning the kit to a specimen collection centre.

Colon cancer cannot be prevented. 

There are some habits or personal characteristics, called ‘risk factors’, that increase the chance of getting colon cancer. Some risk factors cannot be changed, such as age and family history. However, there are some risk factors that can be changed. Here are the steps people can do to lower their risk of getting colon cancer:                 

  • Limit alcohol. Men should have no more than two drinks a day and women should have no more than one drink a day.
  • Limit red meat and try not to eat processed meat (e.g., bologna, salami).
  • Have a healthy body weight.
  • Be physically active as part of everyday life.
  • Eat a diet high in fiber (including vegetables and fruit).
  • Quit smoking and stop using tobacco products (e.g., cigarettes, chewing tobacco).

 

For more information about Colon Cancer Awareness, visit www.cancercareontario.on.ca/colon