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Colon Cancer Awareness Month
Misconceptions and What You Need to Know

Writer / Dr. Bryan Holcomb, Colon & Rectal Surgeon at IU Health North Hospital

colon cancerMarch is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. According to the American Cancer Society, colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men and women in the United States. Misconceptions about colon and rectal cancers can be detrimental to your health. Here are five misconceptions about colon cancer:

Colon cancer only happens to men.

For many years, colon cancer has been viewed as a “man’s cancer,” when, both men and women have about a 4% risk of developing colon cancer. Age and personal and/or family history of colon cancer are much larger risk factors than gender.

Young people do not have to worry about colon cancer.

Recently, the American Cancer Society changed their recommended screening age for colon cancer to 45 years old. This change in guidelines is due to a sharp rise in the instances of young adults being diagnosed with colon cancer. While it is rare for individuals under the age of 50 to develop colon cancer, it is possible.

Colon cancer has clear symptoms.

Changes in stool, rectal bleeding, abdominal pain, unexplained weight loss, constant abdominal discomfort and weakness or fatigue can all be signs of colorectal cancer. However, many people with colon cancer do not experience any symptoms in the early stages of their cancer. Thus, it is better to get screened according to your primary physician and the health guidelines for your age, rather than wait for symptoms to occur.

All polyps are cancerous.

Colon cancer usually begins as a small growth known as a polyp. Polyps can be found early during a colonoscopy and can be removed. Not all polyps are cancerous, but it is still a good idea to get screened for colon cancer regularly. You can also lower your risk of colon cancer by staying active, avoiding smoking, limiting alcohol consumption, keeping a healthy weight and eating a balanced diet.

Colonoscopies aren’t the only way to screen for colon cancer.

While colonoscopies are one way to be screened for colon cancer, they are not the only way. Stool tests and virtual colonoscopies (which use X-rays to gather images of the colon) are also available. Talk with your doctor about which screening method is right for you.

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