Debunking some myths about one of the most common forms of cancer


Colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers in both men and women – but it needn’t be.

That’s because screening can find colon cancer early, when it’s easier to treat. And screening can prevent it from occurring at all. According to the American Cancer Society, about one in three people in the United States who should get tested for colorectal cancer don’t.

There are a lot of misconceptions and myths about the disease. Zev Wainberg, MD, associate professor of hematology/oncology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and a researcher at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, recently discussed some of the most common misconceptions.

MYTH 1: I don’t know anyone with colorectal cancer so it must not really impact that many people.

"Actually, colorectal cancer is the third most common cause of cancer in men and women. It affects 150,000 Americans a year and about 50,000 Americans end up dying from it."

MYTH 2: Colorectal cancer only affects people over the age of 50.

“This is false. We’re seeing more and more younger people getting colon cancer, and research suggests that there's a larger group of people under age 50 getting colorectal cancer every year. The reasons for this are not yet clear. But it is happening and it's something about which we all need to be aware.”

MYTH 3: I know screening can help prevent colorectal cancer, but a colonoscopy is painful and unpleasant.

“A colonoscopy really isn't as bad as it sounds, and it can help prevent a lot of difficult problems later. There are other screening methods that as good or nearly as good as a colonoscopy. But it’s different for everyone. You should talk to your doctor about approved, validated screening methods that are less invasive. The important thing is to get screened. Every week I see patients in their 50s who are newly diagnosed with late-stage colon cancer that most likely would have been diagnosed at an early stage if they had an initial screening at the recommended age of 50. I see this way too often in my clinic.”

MYTH 4: There’s nothing I can do to prevent colorectal cancer.

“There are lots of things you can do. Exercising and eating a nice healthy diet can help prevent many problems in life, and colorectal cancer is one of them. The biggest risk factors for colon cancer remain genetic predisposition, inflammatory bowel diseases and family history. While we are still at our infancy of understanding the mechanism of this disease and how it’s developed, there are many scientists here at the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center who are devoted to better understanding this disease at a molecular level, which can lead to better diagnosis and treatments.”