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Colorectal Cancer Myths and Facts

Colorectal cancer, often referred to as colon cancer, is the third leading cancer killer among men and women in the U.S. Colorectal cancer is largely preventable with regular screening, and is curable with early detection.

A study by leading cancer groups states that deaths from colorectal cancer in the U.S. are down nearly five percent, more than the other leading cancer killers (lung, breast and prostate cancers). Among the key factors credited with the decline is prevention through screening and the removal of precancerous polyps.

Approximately 140,000 people are diagnosed with colon cancer in the U.S. and over 50,000 people die from it annually.

There are many myths about colorectal cancer, such as that the procedure to screen for the disease is painful, when in fact a colonoscopy is well tolerated and can save your life.

Let's explore more myths about colon cancer and the facts patients need to know.

Myth: Colon cancer only affects men
Colon cancer affects both men and women, in fact approximately 26,000 women die every year from colon cancer. It is an equal opportunity disease that does not discriminate against gender or race. Your age, not your gender, is the single most important risk factor for colorectal cancer. Both men and women should undergo testing for the disease starting at age 50. Most insurance covers colonoscopy screening at age 50. If you are 65 or older, colonoscopy is covered by Medicare. For many people, you do not need a referral.

Myth: You don't need to be screened for colon cancer if you have regular bowel movements and are feeling fine
Colon cancer is a silent killer. Usually there are no symptoms to rely on, and when there are symptoms, the cancer may be at an advanced stage. When colon cancer is caught early, most people are cured. However, when colon cancer is detected at later stages, the chances for cure are much lower.

Although colon cancer often has no symptoms, warning signs that may indicate colon cancer include blood in your stools, narrower than normal stools, unexplained abdominal pain, unexplained change in bowel habits, unexplained anemia, and unexplained weight loss. These symptoms may be caused by other benign diseases such as hemorrhoids, inflammation in the colon or irritable bowel syndrome. However, if you have any of these symptoms, you should be evaluated by your physician.

There are certain behaviors that can increase or decrease your risk for colorectal cancer. A high fat diet, smoking and excessive alcohol intake may increase your risk of colorectal cancer. On the other hand, exercise and a healthy balanced diet containing certain minerals and vitamins might decrease your chances of getting colorectal cancer. However, there is no substitution for getting tested. Starting at age 50, everyone should have a colonoscopy to screen for colon cancer, regardless of their lifestyle. In fact, colonoscopy allows for the detection and removal of benign polyps or growths in the colon BEFORE cancer develops.

Some individuals with certain gastrointestinal diseases, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease, may have a risk of developing colon cancer earlier than age 50 and should talk to their physician about regular colonoscopy screening starting at an age earlier than 50 years.

Myth: Once you are diagnosed with colon cancer, it is too late to do anything about it
Colon cancer is a preventable and highly treatable cancer when caught at an early stage. People who are diagnosed at early stages have over a 90 percent chance of a cure and surviving. In contrast, people that have advanced stages of colorectal cancer have a lower chance of a cure; less than 10 percent will be alive in five years after the diagnosis. Therefore, it makes good sense to get screened for colorectal cancer.

Myth: You don't need to get screened for colon cancer if there is no family history of colon cancer
Most people with colorectal cancer do not have a family member with the disease. Only 10-20 percent of people that have colorectal cancer have a family member with colorectal cancer. You can still get colon cancer even if no one in your family has ever had it.

The American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy recommends having your first colonoscopy screening starting at age 50 and repeating every 10 years. If you have a family history of colorectal cancer, you might need to start screening before age 50. Consult your doctor and get tested for colorectal cancer, it may save your life.

Colorectal Cancer Myths & Facts Video

See the full length Colorectal Cancer Myths & Facts video.



For questions about this Web site, contact info@asge.org. For questions specifically related to your health and getting screened for colorectal cancer, contact your doctor, or to find a doctor in your area.