There is no shortage of information available on cancer, but sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish what’s true and what’s not. Below, John Marks, MD, chief of colorectal surgery at Main Line Health and director of the Mirabile Colorectal Cancer Center at Lankenau Medical Center, dispels four common colon cancer myths.
Myth: Colon cancer is a man’s disease
Fact: Most people are quick to associate colon cancer with older Caucasian men, but that generalization couldn’t be further from the truth. Ethnic groups like African Americans and Ashkenazi Jews have the highest colorectal cancer incidents and mortality rates in the United States. And women are only at a slightly lower risk than men. Colon cancer, while entirely preventable, remains the number one abdominal cancer that afflicts both men and women. Everyone should schedule regular colonoscopies starting at age 45–50.
Myth: I haven’t noticed any symptoms, so I don’t need a colonoscopy
Fact: Regular colonoscopies are the best way to detect and treat cancer early. By the time symptoms show up it may be too late. Unfortunately, the symptoms of colon cancer can often go unrecognized, as they are relatively common. Still, that doesn’t mean colon cancer isn’t present. Keep an eye out for symptoms like a change in bowel habits, cramping or abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, or dark stools. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should have a colonoscopy, regardless of age.
Myth: If I have cancer, I’ll need a colostomy bag
Fact: Thanks to surgical advances, a colostomy bag isn’t always necessary after colon cancer treatment. The Transanal Abdominal Transanal Radical Proctosigmoidectomy (TATA) performed at Lankenau Medical Center and performed by Dr. Marks is able to both remove cancer and preserve sphincter function, greatly improving the quality of life for cancer patients. Depending on the location of your cancer, you may not need a permanent colostomy bag. Talk to your doctor about your options. At Lankenau 93 percent of patients avoid colostomies verses 60–75 percent rates nationwide.
Myth: Colon cancer is a deadly disease
Fact: Colon cancer is a highly treatable disease. When it is found and treated early, the five-year survival rate is about 90 percent. Unfortunately, many people aren’t getting regular colonoscopies so only about four out of 10 patients are diagnosed at an early stage when treatment is most effective. And remember it is entirely preventable if removed at the pre-cancerous stage as a polyp.