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Colon cancer myths dispelled!

The American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy is dispelling the myths and giving patients the facts about colon cancer for National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month 

Oak Brook, Ill. – March 10, 2008 – March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ASGE), representing the specialists in colon cancer screening, is dispelling some common myths about colon cancer to raise awareness about this preventable and curable disease.

Colorectal cancer, often referred to as colon cancer, is the second leading cancer killer among men and women in the United States. It is largely preventable with regular screening, and is curable with early detection. A recent study by leading cancer groups stated that deaths from colorectal cancer in the U.S. are down nearly five percent, more than the other leading cancer killers (lung, breast and prostate cancers). Among the key factors credited with the decline is prevention through screening and the removal of precancerous polyps.

“More than 150,000 people are diagnosed with colon cancer in the U.S. each year and over 50,000 people die from it annually,” said ASGE President Grace H. Elta, MD, FASGE. “There are many myths about colorectal cancer, such as that the one of the options to screen for the disease is painful, when in fact a colonoscopy is well tolerated and can save your life. If you or a loved one is 50 or over, or experiencing any symptoms that are worrisome for colon cancer, talk to your doctor about getting screened for this disease. Screening saves lives.”

Here are some myths about colon cancer and the facts patients need to know.

Myth: Colon cancer only affects men
Colon cancer affects both men and women, in fact approximately 26,000 women die every year from colon cancer. It is an equal opportunity disease that does not discriminate against gender or race. Your age, not your gender, is the single most important risk factor for colorectal cancer. Both men and women should undergo testing for the disease starting at age 50. Most insurance covers screening at age 50. If you are 65 or older, screening is covered by Medicare. For many people, you do not need a referral.

Myth: You don’t need to be screened for colon cancer if you have regular bowel movements and are feeling fine
Colon cancer is a silent killer. Usually there are no symptoms to rely on, and when there are symptoms, the cancer may be at an advanced stage. When colon cancer is caught early, most people are cured. However, when colon cancer is detected at later stages, the chances for cure are much lower.

Although colon cancer often has no symptoms, warning signs that may indicate colon cancer include blood in your stools, narrower than normal stools, unexplained abdominal pain, unexplained change in bowel habits, unexplained anemia, and unexplained weight loss. These symptoms may be caused by other benign diseases such as hemorrhoids, inflammation in the colon or irritable bowel syndrome. If you have any of these symptoms, however, you should be evaluated by your physician.

There are certain behaviors that can increase or decrease your risk for colorectal cancer. A high fat diet, smoking and excessive alcohol intake may increase your risk of colorectal cancer. On the other hand, exercise and a healthy balanced diet containing certain minerals and vitamins might decrease your chances of getting colorectal cancer. However, there is no substitution for getting tested. Starting at age 50, everyone should be screened for colon cancer, regardless of their lifestyle. In fact, colonoscopy screening allows for the detection and removal of benign polyps or growths in the colon BEFORE cancer develops.

Some individuals with certain gastrointestinal diseases, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, may have a risk of developing colon cancer earlier than age 50 and should talk to their physician about regular screening starting at an age earlier than 50 years.

Myth: Once you are diagnosed with colon cancer, it is too late to do anything about it
Colon cancer is a preventable and highly treatable cancer when caught at an early stage. People who are diagnosed at early stages have over a 90 percent chance of a cure and surviving. In contrast, people that have advanced stages of colorectal cancer have a lower chance of a cure; less than 10 percent will be alive in five years after the diagnosis. Therefore, it makes good sense to get screened for colorectal cancer.

Myth: You don’t need to get screened for colon cancer if there is no family history of colon cancer
Most people with colorectal cancer do not have a family member with the disease. Only 10 to 20 percent of people that have colorectal cancer have a family member with colorectal cancer. You can still get colon cancer even if no one in your family has ever had it. The American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy recommends having your first colonoscopy screening starting at age 50 and repeating every 10 years. If you have a family history of colorectal cancer, you might need to start screening before age 50. Consult your doctor about the colorectal cancer screening option that is best for you, it may save your life.

To watch an informational video with an ASGE physician dispelling these myths, log on to the ASGE’s colon cancer awareness web site www.screen4coloncancer.org. Here you can also find disease facts, information on screening options, fun interactive elements such as a birthday e-Card reminding those 50 and over to get screened for colon cancer, and where to find a qualified physician in your area.

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About the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy
Founded in 1941, the mission of the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy is to be the leader in advancing patient care and digestive health by promoting excellence in gastrointestinal endoscopy. ASGE, with more than 10,000 physician members worldwide, promotes the highest standards for endoscopic training and practice, fosters endoscopic research, recognizes distinguished contributions to endoscopy, and is the foremost resource for endoscopic education.

About Endoscopy
Endoscopy is performed by specially-trained physicians called endoscopists using the most current technology to diagnose and treat diseases of the gastrointestinal tract. Using flexible, thin tubes called endoscopes, endoscopists are able to access the human digestive tract without incisions via natural orifices. Endoscopes are designed with high-intensity lighting and fitted with precision devices that allow viewing and treatment of the gastrointestinal system. In many cases, screening or treatment of conditions can be delivered via the endoscope without the need for further sedation, treatment or hospital stay.