Colorectal Cancer: Fact or Fiction

By: Brie Veltri, Health Education Specialist, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

Colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon or rectum) is the third most common cancer in the United States and the second leading cause of death from cancers that affect both men and women. Colorectal cancer affects people in all racial and ethnic groups and is most common in people age 50 and older.
MYTH: Colorectal cancer only affects men.

Colorectal cancer affects men and women of all racial and ethnic groups.

FACT: Colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the U.S.

Of cancers affecting both men and women, colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the United States and the third most common cancer in men and in women.

FACT: Getting screened for colorectal cancer can help prevent the disease.

Screening helps find precancerous polyps (abnormal growths) in the colon and rectum so they can be removed before they turn into cancer. Screening also helps find colorectal cancer early, when treatment works best.

MYTH: If you don’t have symptoms, it means you don’t have colorectal cancer.

Colorectal polyps and colorectal cancer don’t always cause symptoms, especially early on. But screening can find polyps and colorectal cancer even before symptoms appear. That’s why getting screened regularly for colorectal cancer is so important.

FACT: The recommended age for screening is 50 years old.

Your risk of getting colorectal cancer increases as you get older. About 90% of cases occur in people who are age 50 or older. However, you may need to be tested earlier or more often than other people if you have inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, a personal or family history of colorectal cancer or colorectal polyps, or a genetic syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome). If you think any of these things are true for you, ask your doctor when and how often you should be tested.

MYTH: The only screening test for colorectal cancer is colonoscopy.

There are several types of screening tests for colorectal cancer, including some that you can do at home. Learn about all of the screening test options and talk to your doctor about which is right for you. The best test is the one you do!

FACT: Symptoms of colorectal cancer include: blood in or on your stool, stomach pain, aches or cramps that don’t go away, losing weight and you don’t know why.

If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor. They may be caused by something other than cancer. The only way to know what is causing them is to see your doctor.

FACT: Medicare and most insurance plans cover colorectal cancer screenings.

Check with your plan to see what’s covered. In addition, free or low-cost screenings may be available for you. Six states in CDC’s Colorectal Cancer Control Program provide colorectal cancer screening to low-income men and women aged 50 to 64 years who are underinsured or uninsured for screening, when resources are available, and there is no other payment option.

Talk with your provider to find out what screening option is best for you! For more information about cancer prevention, visit the Comprehensive Cancer Control Program’s website.