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Correcting Common Colorectal Cancer Misconceptions

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Correcting Common Colorectal Cancer Misconceptions

Jul 28, 2021

According to Dr. Priyanka Kanth, misconceptions about colorectal cancer may be the cause of a significant percentage of deaths from the disease. Educate yourself about the causes of colorectal cancer, screening, and who’s at risk—because by the time you have symptoms, it may already be too late.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: Were you aware that lack of knowledge about colorectal cancer causes a significant percentage of adult deaths from colon cancer every single year? So that means just by listening to this podcast today you are going to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer.

Dr. Priyanka Kanth is from Huntsman Cancer Institute and here are the bullet points that we're going to talk about today to help inform you so you are less likely to get colorectal cancer.

So, first of all, it's one of the most common cancers, and it causes a significant percentage of adult cancer deaths. Colorectal cancer impacts men and women equally. You need to have screening even if you don't have a family history and by the time you have symptoms it can often be too late, that's why screening is so important. So let's start with the first one Dr. Kanth, colorectal cancer I didn't realize this, one of the most common cancers and causes a lot of deaths.

Dr. Kanth: That's correct. So colon cancer is the third most common cancer in the U.S. And so number one being lungs and number two being breast and prostate in the respective gender. And then third is colon cancer, and that's pretty high. And it is also the second most common cancer to cause death in the U.S. So the first is lung cancer, leading the highest deaths from a cancer, and the second is colon cancer. So it is surely that the burden of disease is very high.

Interviewer: Yeah. I think that surprises a lot of people. A lot of people don't realize that and, as a result, maybe don't take screening as seriously. Another misperception is that men . . . It's a man's disease, but it actually impacts men and women equally. Tell me more about that.

Dr. Kanth: Absolutely. So there is no separate recommendation for men and women. Both genders can get this cancer, and both genders should start at the same age. So there is no difference in recommendation. It is a disease for anyone. So anyone should get screened and now at age 45, yes.

Interviewer: And another perception is, well, my family, nobody in my family had colorectal cancer. So I'm probably going to be okay. Maybe I don't need to get screened at 45, which is the new recommendation. Maybe I can wait till I'm 60. But that's false too.

Dr. Kanth: Absolutely, you're very correct about it. A lot of time we don't think that it is a problem for us because we don't have anyone in our family, but that's not correct. It can happen to anyone. In fact, 70% of all colorectal cancer patients don't have a family history. So that's a big number. And that's why it's so important to have this screened because screening is the best prevention.

Interviewer: I also understand that there's a misperception that colorectal cancer just happens to older people, like in their 60s, 70s, and 80s, so I can put off my screening.

Dr. Kanth: Again, a very, very good point. It can happen to anyone. So age is a number. It surely can happen more in older age, but even young people can get it. And we have seen a rise in incidents in less than age 50. So it is not a disease of only old age. It is a disease for anyone to be worried about.

Interviewer: And then the other misperception that I've heard is, oh, I'll go in and get my screening when I start to show symptoms. But that's very dangerous and inaccurate.

Dr. Kanth: It is. It is very dangerous because colon cancer, especially early stages will not have any symptoms. Even sometimes late stages you'll have symptoms, very minimal symptoms. This is a disease where you don't produce symptoms, you don't think about it and it is inside you. So you have to be very, very aware of this. That don't wait for symptoms. Go ahead and get your screening.

Interviewer: And how difficult is it for treatment if a patient comes to you is at the point where they have symptoms?

Dr. Kanth: Absolutely. So if the symptoms are already there, we are worried it is a late-stage disease. And treating a late-stage disease when it has spread beyond colon is much more difficult compared to treating a stage one or two disease, when it is just in the colon. If it's just in the colon, we take your colon out. We all can live without our colon believe it or not. We can have some change in quality of life, but we can have same life expectancy. So treating an early-stage colon cancer is way easier compared to treating a stage four, late-stage colorectal cancer, yes.

Interviewer: And the two options you've got the stool test, or you've got a colonoscopy. Tell me the advantages and disadvantages of each one of those, because, you know, we know that 45 is the number we should be screened at, but some of us don't necessarily want to take, you know, the day off before and after to get a colonoscopy, so talk me through that.

Dr. Kanth: That's correct. So colonoscopy is gold standard. The reason we call it gold standard is this is the only preventive tool where we can go in, we can see a precancerous lesion, which is a polyp, and we can take it out.

Interviewer: And so it's a diagnostic tool.

Dr. Kanth: It's a diagnostic.

Interviewer: In addition too, if there's a problem at the same time, you can take care of it.

Dr. Kanth: You've taken care of it. It will never turn into cancer. Stool test are very, very, very good tests to detect colon cancer. They may not detect polyps, but they will detect colon cancer at a very high sensitivity. So it is a very good option for patients who are worried about colonoscopy. Now, colonoscopies are not without risk. It's an invasive procedure. We give you sedation. You have to go through a prep as well. You have to take time off, like you mentioned, and yes, some risks associated with the procedure itself, like bleeding or perforation. Those risks are very small, very, very small, but can happen. Stool tests on the other hand, are very safe, can detect colon cancer readily, may not be polyps, but it's a very good tool, once we find that you have blood in stool. Now remember this, if your stool test is positive, you have to get a colonoscopy. That is the next step. So just to keep in mind, any screening test result like we said, best screening test is the one that gets done. So we should consider screening whatever option works for you.

Interviewer: And the advantage of a colonoscopy too, is once you have that done, if no polyps are discovered, you're good for another 10 years.

Dr. Kanth: Absolutely. If your prep was good, if you did a good exam and no polyps were found, you have no family history, you don't have to repeat it for 10 years. So even with small polyps now we don't have to repeat it for 7 to 10 years. So the recent recommendation has changed and become more relaxed for even if you had one or two small polyps, you're okay.

Interviewer: And the stool test is yearly.

Dr. Kanth: So stool test, there're a couple of stool tests. One stool test, where you have to do pretty much yearly is called fecal immunochemical testing. The other stool test is called FIT-DNA, which is commercially called Cologuard which you may consider doing it every three years. But it is surely more frequent to do it than getting a colonoscopy done.

Interviewer: And let's talk briefly about barriers that keep people from getting either one of the two screenings. So maybe we can help talk them through and encourage them, you know, if they have average risk to get screened at 45, because that is really the best way of preventing death from colorectal cancer. So what are some of the barriers and how can people overcome those?

Dr. Kanth: Absolutely. So the biggest barrier, I think, is the knowledge. They should know that they have to get screened. So there is a provider and patient education involved either away. So if no one told them, or if they did not hear it on the radio, say they don't know. So that's the biggest barrier. So education is very important from both aspects. The other barriers are, I would say another very big barrier is, of course, insurance coverage, if you don't have insurance. But there are other tools, there are other ways, like I said, stool tests, they are very cheap. So things can still be done even if you don't have insurance. Apart from that, other barriers are just being worried about getting a procedure. A lot of people think colonoscopy is painful. I have to go through this. It's not true. Colonoscopy is a very smooth, painless procedure, honestly. So those kinds of things that this is going to hurt me, that's not correct. So those are the main things. I would say if I have to pick any, I would say education. If you're aware you're going to do it, you will do it.

Interviewer: And sometimes it's just getting it on the calendar, right?

Dr. Kanth: Absolutely.

Interviewer: Whether it's the colonoscopy or whether it's the stool test, just talk to your primary care provider. Have that discussion find out where it works out for you.

Dr. Kanth: Absolutely. Yes. And that's for average risk screening, you can choose anything, colonoscopy or stool test. There are other tests, other modalities too, but these two are the most common. If you've family history, we recommend colonoscopy, that's the usual tool is recommended. So the best way is to contact your primary care provider, talk to them what's best for you.