March is colorectal cancer awareness month and a great time to obtain information on this topic.

Myth: There is nothing I can do about developing colorectal cancer.

Reality: You may decrease your risk of getting colon cancer by modifying your lifestyle. Following a low-fat diet high in vegetables and fruits and exercise may reduce your risk of developing colon cancer. Since most types of colorectal cancer, develop from pre-cancerous polyps – growths on the lining of the colon and rectum - screening methods can detect and remove polyps BEFORE they turn into cancer. These include colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, stool testing kits, and virtual colonoscopy.

Myth: Colorectal cancer is fatal.

Reality: Colorectal cancer may be curable when detected early. Over 90% of patients with localized colorectal cancer (confined to the colon or rectum) are alive five years after diagnosis. Unfortunately, only around a third of all colorectal cancers are diagnosed at this early stage.

Myth: Screening is only necessary for individuals with symptoms.

Reality: Since early colorectal cancer usually has no symptoms, recommended screenings are important to detect this type of cancer. Screening checks for cancer in a person with no symptoms. All men and women who are 45 years of age or older should undergo routine screening for colorectal cancer. People with a personal or family history of colorectal cancer or polyps, or a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease as well as those with concerning symptoms such as rectal bleeding are considered at high risk and may need to be screened before the age of 45. In addition, women with a personal or family history of ovarian, endometrial or breast cancer may need to be screened before the age of 45.

Myth: Colonoscopy is a difficult procedure to undergo.

Reality: This exam is not painful. To minimize discomfort the patient is usually sedated. Discomfort is usually caused by gas which is inserted into the colon, a necessary procedure for the doctor to visualize the lining of the colon. The unpleasant part of the procedure is the preparation itself (or “bowel prep”) which needs to be carried out before the exam. However, it is of extreme importance that this is it thoroughly carried out. An inadequate preparation can lead to missed findings such as polyps or the need to repeat the procedure.

Myth: Developing colon or rectal polyp means I have cancer and need surgery.

Reality: A polyp may be a pre-cancerous lesion that, if left untreated, can progress to colon cancer. If these polyps are detected early and removed before they can progress, colon cancer can be prevented. Most polyps are treated by removing them during the colonoscopy. Even large polyps can be removed without surgery, although a colorectal surgeon or specialist may be needed to perform these procedures.

If a polyp is found to be cancerous, surgery may be needed to remove that particular part of the colon. Even if surgery is needed, many procedures today can be performed using laparoscopic, robotic, or minimally invasive approaches, minimizing recovery time and pain, as well as providing additional benefits.