It seems strange that just three years ago, COVID-19 upended our world. During that immediate time surrounding the initial onset of the pandemic, as well as in the months and years that have followed, many people have put their regular health visits and screenings on hold. These include primary care well visits to dentist checkups to screenings that might help catch certain cancers early.
March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Therefore, it’s the ideal reminder to schedule your screening for colorectal cancer if you’re age 45 and older.
Also, there are a few myths circulating about colorectal cancer, including what the screening entails as well as the prep and pain. These myths need to be busted with facts.
Myth: A colorectal cancer screening is not needed if there is no family history of colorectal cancer.
Fact: You should be screened, even with no family history. Diet, exercise level, smoking and alcohol intake all factor into your risk. Other risk factors include family history of colon and other cancers, a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease or personal history of cancer or polyps.
Screening for colorectal cancer has come a long way and can even be done at home. However, colonoscopy remains the preferred test. If caught early, colon cancer can be prevented by removing precancerous polyps.
Myth: I am too old for a colonoscopy.
Fact: Though age is certainly a factor in choosing which screening option is best for each individual, age itself is only one component in making this decision.
Myth: I could not possibly have a cancer or precancerous polyp without any symptoms.
Fact: Many patients with colon polyps or even cancer may not have symptoms at all, which is why screening before developing symptoms is important. However, if you do have blood in or around stools, pain with bowel movements, abdominal pain or weight loss, you should be evaluated right away by your primary care provider to see what additional testing is needed.
Myth: The prep for a colonoscopy is miserable and not worth it.
Fact: Prepping has improved a lot in recent years and there are multiple options to cleanse the colon, including various liquid and pill formulations. Colon cancer, if caught early, is very curable – so the prep for the screening is absolutely worth it.
Myth: A colonoscopy is painful and requires extensive time off work.
Fact: Patients are given medicine to help them sleep through the procedure. As well, most patients have no memory of the actual procedure and wake up with little to no pain or discomfort. Most patients take the day of the procedure off from work but can go back to normal activities the following day.
Myth: A colonoscopy is dangerous.
Fact: Colonoscopy is a very common and very safe procedure. Risks of bleeding and perforation are quite rare.
Talk with your family and your doctor about getting screened for colorectal cancer today.
Thank you to Cory D. Barrat, MD, MBA, FACS, FASCRS, (pictured above, right) board-certified colorectal and general surgeon, for contributing to this article. He is also the medical director of oncology services and director of The Jewish Hospital – Mercy Health’s nationally accredited rectal cancer program.