March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.  At Esse Health, we are working hard to prevent colon cancer by encouraging patients to get early screening tests.  The first step in the fight against colon cancer is talking to your doctor about ways to prevent it.  Below are some common myths about colon cancer.


I feel fine; I don’t think I will get colon cancer.

Fact: Colon cancer is a very common cancer in men and women. It tends to affect all races and all ages, although it is more frequent in older people.  There is about a 5% chance of developing colon cancer in a lifetime.  Colon cancer in early stages does not cause any problems, but by the time you develop symptoms or problems, it is often at an advanced stage. As a result, getting your screening for colon cancer is very important for prevention and early detection.


None of my family members have colon cancer, so I am ok.

Fact: While having a family history of colon cancer can increase your risk, you can be predisposed to developing colon cancer even without a family history.


I won’t get cancer because I don’t smoke or drink, and I eat healthy.

Fact: You may be right, but the interplay of certain known and unknown genetic, dietary and environmental factors can predispose you to develop cancer despite a healthy lifestyle.


Colon cancer cannot be prevented.

Fact: Colon cancer is one of the few cancers where the natural history of progression is studied well. The cancer starts off in small growths called polyps. There are several known and unknown factors that trigger development of polyps and progression of cancer.  It is one of the cancers where identification of precursors of cancer (polyps) can be found and removed, thereby preventing development of cancer. If the polyp is found early, it can be removed – stopping colorectal cancer before it starts.

The following tests can find polyps: colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy, double-contrast barium enema, or CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy). Talk to your health care provider about which test is right for you.

Other ways you can lower your chances of getting colorectal cancer:

  • Maintain a healthy weight throughout your life; stay lean without being underweight.
  • Be physically active; limit the time you spend sitting, lying down, watching TV, etc.
  • Eat at least 2½ cups of vegetables and fruits a day.
  • Choose whole grains over refined grain products.
  • Limit the amount of red meat and processed meat you eat.
  • If you drink alcohol, limit the amount to 1 drink per day for women, 2 per day for men.
  • Do not use tobacco in any form.

There are no tests that can detect colon cancer early.

Fact: There are several tests that can help detect polyps. Early detection and removal of polyps can prevent colon cancer. The tests can be non-invasive such as fecal or blood test, x-ray study or CT scan.   These tests have different accuracies in finding polyps or cancer.  Invasive tests (such as sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy) not only detect polyps, but the polyps can be removed at the same time.


Early detection does not help me if I already have colon cancer.

Fact: Early detection can lead to a better outcome from treatment and, ultimately, improve your survival rate.


Colonoscopy is painful.

Fact: Colonoscopy is an embarrassing test and no one wants to do it. But it is a life-saving procedure that can prevent colon cancer. Just a few hours of pre-test preparation and 20-minutes (average time) of embarrassment should not prevent you from getting this important test.


I heard the prep prior to the procedure is terrible.

Fact: While this is partially true, there are improved preparations available that your doctor can suggest if you or your family member has had a bad experience in the past.


There are no tests other than colonoscopy for early detection of colon cancer.

Fact: There are several ways to detect colon polyps or cancer. They range from simple blood tests to CT scan to colonoscopy. Everyone’s needs are different. You and your doctor can decide the test that is right for you. Understanding the risk and benefit of each test, as well as its accuracy and consequences is important before undergoing any test. Colonoscopy is considered the ‘gold standard’ test for colon cancer prevention, but it has some inherent limitations and risks. The risk of anesthesia varies from person to person, depending on several factors. In general, the procedure is considered safe. The benefits far outweigh the risks, which is why doctors and medical societies endorse colonoscopy as the best test available for detecting and/or preventing colon cancer.


Colonoscopy is expensive and my insurance will not cover it.

Fact: Colonoscopy is covered by most insurance plans when performed for age-appropriate colon cancer screening. This can mean little to no copay or coinsurance is needed.  In many cases, it literally can be a free preventive test!! . Check with your provider for benefit details.