Busting The Gut Myths

Greater colon cancer awareness requires clearing up misperceptions about risk

Colorectal cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer death in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. But it also preventable and often treatable. Unfortunately, many people believe the opposite to be true.

“In fact, most colon cancers can be prevented from colonoscopy and colon cancer screening,” says Branden S. Hunter, MD, of Gastroenterology Consultants of Savannah. “We urge patients to get screened.”

Other misperceptions about colon cancer persist, according to the American Cancer Society, and Dr. Hunter hopes that education efforts will help save more lives. 

The most common misinformation about colorectal cancer includes:

Gender.  Colorectal cancer is often thought of as a man’s disease, but this is not the case. It is the second-leading cause of cancer death for both men and women.

Age. Many people don’t realize that age is a factor of colon cancer. But 90 percent of colorectal cancers are found in those age 50 or older. “Age definitely matters,” Dr. Hunter says. “Fifty is the recommended age for patients with an average risk. Patients with a family history or certain medical disorders may need to screen earlier.”

Risk for African-Americans. The rate of colorectal cancer diagnosis is actually higher for African-Americans than for other racial groups in the U.S., even though Caucasians are more likely to have undergone screenings. “We have seen that African-American patients tend to present with cancer at a more advanced stage and with a higher incidence,” Dr. Hunter says. “So we actually recommend screenings starting at age 45 for African-Americans at average risk.”

 Dr. Hunter also says that many of his patients’ perceptions about colonoscopies aren’t accurate.

“People misperceive how painful a colonoscopy will be,” he says. “But really, the experience for most patients is that they take a brief nap and we do the procedure while they’re sleeping.”

Not only is the procedure not painful, it could save a person’s life.

“If we see a polyp, or an abnormal growth of tissue, we remove it immediately,” Hunter says. “Through colonoscopy, we prevent polyps from growing into colon cancer down the road.”

Before colonoscopies were available, older generations may have experienced colon cancer as an untreatable disease. Dr. Hunter is grateful that while this perception may still linger, awareness is changing.

“We know more about the disease and we are trying to reach more people with the knowledge of screening,” he says. “We’ve found that over the past decade, colorectal cancer deaths have decreased in the U.S. as a direct result of colonoscopy. Now we can screen more people and save more lives.”

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