7 Myths About Colorectal Cancer Risk

  • Middle aged Caucasian woman smiling at outdoor picnic
    Colorectal Cancer: Learn the Truth to Reduce Your Risk
    According to the American Cancer Society, only about half of those who should be screened for colorectal cancer take this potentially life-saving step. Screening is critical to finding colorectal cancer in the early stages when it’s highly treatable. People who aren’t getting screened may not realize they are at risk. Get the facts about the risk of colorectal cancer and why screening should be part of everyone’s healthcare routine.

  • Man with stomach pain
    Myth No. 1: If you have colorectal cancer, you would know.
    There are early warning signs of colorectal cancer, but most people have no symptoms at all. That’s why screening is so important. Screening provides information your body may not. If you do experience symptoms, however, talk with your doctor. Symptoms include abdominal pain, blood in your stools, stools that are more narrow than usual, anemia, and unexpected weight loss.

  • Family
    Myth No. 2: You don’t have colorectal cancer in your family, so you’re not at risk.
    Only 10 to 20% of people diagnosed with colorectal cancer have a family member with the disease. About 75% of people diagnosed with colorectal cancer don’t have any risk factors. If you do have a family member with colorectal cancer, talk with your doctor about beginning your screening routine sooner than the norm (before age 50) and scheduling your screenings more frequently (more than once every 10 years).

  • Older man
    Myth No. 3: Only older men get colorectal cancer.
    Many people believe that those with colorectal cancer are older white men. This is not true. Men and women of different ages and ethnicities get colon cancer. Women are diagnosed with colorectal cancer almost as often as men. Every year, approximately 71,000 American men and 64,000 American women receive a colorectal cancer diagnosis. Colorectal cancer is, in fact, the third leading cause of cancer death for women.  

  • Despondent man
    Myth No. 4: There’s nothing you can do to help prevent colorectal cancer.

    There is actually a lot you can do to help prevent colorectal cancer. Nearly all colorectal cancer cells begin as non-cancerous polyps. If your doctor detects these polyps early, the polyps can be removed before they become cancerous. Doctor use several screening tests to detect polyps: colonoscopy, double-contrast barium enema, flexible sigmoidoscopy, and minimally invasive virtual colonoscopy (CT colonoscopy). Ask your doctor to recommend a test for you.   

  • In hospital in pain
    Myth No. 5: A colonoscopy is too painful.
    Typically, there is no pain associated with a colonoscopy. Your doctor will provide sedation for the procedure, and the procedure only lasts about 30 minutes. The day before a colonoscopy, you will receive an enema, take laxatives, or both in order to clean out your system. This is called bowel prep. You’ll need to stay close to a bathroom, so consider taking the day off. Since you’ll be sedated for your colonoscopy, plan for someone to drive you home afterward. 

  • Senior woman with doctor
    Myth No. 6: Colorectal cancer can’t be treated, so it’s better not to know.
    Absolutely false. Effective treatments are available for colorectal cancer, especially if the cancer is caught early. The myth that colorectal cancer is not treatable may be a self-fulfilling prophecy: Because many people don’t follow screening recommendations, the cancer is not caught early enough and treatment becomes more difficult. Due to a lack of screening, only 37% of those with colorectal cancer receive a diagnosis at an early stage before the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

  • Healthy senior woman
    Myth No. 7: The outlook isn’t good for those with colorectal cancer.
    Not so. Of people diagnosed with colorectal cancer before it spreads, 90% are still survivors five years later. The “five-year survival rate” is an important benchmark for the treatability of any type of cancer and other serious illnesses. If you are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, you won’t be alone. Last year, 95,270 people were diagnosed with colorectal cancer in the U.S. Today, more than 1 million Americans are colon cancer survivors.

7 Myths About Colorectal Cancer Risk

About The Author

Evelyn Creekmore has more than 15 years of experience writing online educational health content, including nearly 10 years full-time at WebMD, where she was the director of brand content. She holds an MPH in Applied Public Health Informatics from Emory University Rollins School of Public Health and an MA from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
  1. Colorectal Cancer Prevention and Early Detection. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003170-pdf.pdf
  2. Colorectal Myths and Facts. American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy. http://www.screenforcoloncancer.org/myths.asp
  3. Colorectal Cancer Myths and Realities. American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons. https://www.fascrs.org/colorectal-cancer-myths-and-realities
  4. Five Myths About Colorectal Cancer. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/colonandrectumcancer/moreinformation/five-myths-about-colorectal-cancer
  5. American Cancer Society. Frequently Asked Questions About Colonoscopy and Sigmoidoscopy. http://www.cancer.org/healthy/findcancerearly/examandtestdescriptions/faq-colonoscopy-and-sigmoidosc...
  6. Key statistics for colorectal cancer. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/colonandrectumcancer/detailedguide/colorectal-cancer-key-statistics
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Last Review Date: 2021 Feb 17
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