Facts & Myths

What Is Colon Cancer?

Colon cancer, or colorectal cancer, starts in the colon or the rectum. Colon cancer and rectal cancer are often grouped together because they have many features in common.

Five Myths About Colorectal Cancer

In many cases, colorectal cancer can be prevented. Still, it’s one of the five most common cancers in both men and women in the U.S. Colorectal cancer also is one of the leading causes of cancer death in the U.S. Don’t let common myths stop you from getting the life-saving screening tests you need, when you need them.

Myth #1: Colorectal cancer is a man’s disease.
Truth: Of cancers that affect both men and women, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. It is the third most common cancer in men and in women.

Myth #2: Colorectal cancer cannot be prevented.
Truth: In many cases, colorectal cancer can be prevented. Colorectal cancer almost always starts with a small growth called a polyp. If the polyp is found early, it can be removed—stopping colorectal cancer before it starts.

Myth #3: African Americans are not at risk for colorectal cancer.
Truth: African American men and women are diagnosed with and die from colorectal cancer at higher rates than men and women of any other racial or ethnic group in the U.S.

Myth #4: I can’t get colon cancer before I turn 50.
Truth: Colorectal cancer does, in fact, strike younger people. The incidence rate of colorectal cancer in young adults is rising. Recently, screening recommendations were lowered from age 50 to age 45.

Myth #5: It’s better not to get tested for colorectal cancer because it’s deadly anyway.
Truth: Colorectal cancer often is highly treatable. If it’s found and treated early (while it’s small and before it has spread), the five-year relative survival rate is about 90%. But because many people are not getting tested the way they should, only about four out of 10 are cases diagnosed at this early stage when treatment is most likely to be successful. (American Cancer Society)

Are You at Risk?

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The following are risk factors for colorectal cancer:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Physical inactivity
  • A diet high in red and processed meats
  • Smoking
  • Heavy alcohol use

If you have a family history of colorectal polyps or cancer, you have a higher risk of getting colorectal cancer yourself. This risk can be even higher in people with a strong family history of colorectal cancer. While cancer in close (first-degree) relatives such as parents, brothers and sisters is most concerning, cancer in more distant relatives also can be important.