Colorectal Cancer Myths & Facts

There is a lot of misinformation most types of cancer, and colorectal cancer is no exception. Here are some of the most common and persistent myths:

Myth: I don’t need to be tested as I do not have a family history of colon cancer or stomach/bowel problems.

Fact: Age is the most important risk factor for colon cancer. Most new cases of colorectal cancer are diagnosed in men and women aged 50 or older. Individuals in this age group should be routinely tested.


Myth: I have no symptoms of colon cancer and do not need to take the test.

Fact: Screening is only recommended for people who are not experiencing symptoms that may indicate colon cancer. Screening finds the hidden signs of colon cancer. In its early stages, there may be no symptoms – that is why screening is so important. If colon cancer is detected at its earliest stage, the chance of survival is over 90%. If you are experiencing symptoms, talk to your doctor about a referral for diagnostic testing.


Myth: Those who have taken the Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) before do not have to take it again.

Fact: Routine screening is important for early detection. Like many forms of cancer, you may not have symptoms until the cancer has grown. By taking this test every 2 years, you can detect the hidden signs of colon cancer early- when colon cancer can be prevented or caught early.


Myth: The screening test is 100% accurate.

Fact: Screening finds many non-cancerous polyps and colon cancers, but no screening test is perfect. There is a chance that a cancer can be missed if it was not bleeding when the screening test was taken. However, regular screening offers the best chance of detecting the early signs of colon cancer. It is also important, even if you have had a normal result, to monitor your own health and see your doctor immediately if you have any symptoms, including blood in your stool, changes in your bowel habits and abdominal pain.


Myth: Colonoscopy has a large risk of complications.

Fact: As with any medical procedure, colonoscopy has a small risk of complications. Serious complications are rare, but can include: having a reaction to the medication used for sedation, heart or lung problems, developing an infection, bleeding from the colon, and perforation of the colon (hole in the colon). If a complication occurs, medication such as antibiotics, a blood transfusion, a hospitalization, a repeat colonoscopy, or an operation may be required. The risk of dying from colonoscopy is less than 1/14,000.


Myth: Having a polyp means I have cancer and need surgery.

Fact: A polyp is a precancerous lesion that can progress to colon cancer. If these polyps are detected and removed before this progression, colon cancer can be prevented – this is how colonoscopy and sigmoidoscopy prevent deaths from colon cancer. Most benign polyps are completely treated by removal during the colonoscopy. [1]


Information taken from BC Cancer unless otherwise indicated.

[1] American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons, “Colorectal Cancer Myths and Realities”,