by Scott Macaluso, clinical supervisor of Endoscopy Services

Colon cancer is not selective. It affects both men and women, all races, all ethnic groups. March is National Colon Cancer Awareness Month, so there's no better time than the present to get a colonoscopy! Worried about the procedure? Here are some common myths—and the facts that may change your mind.

Myth: I don't have to worry about colorectal cancer until I start having symptoms

Fact: Symptoms are usually a late sign of colorectal cancer. In its early stages, colorectal cancer generally has no symptoms and gives no warning. Later in the cancer's development, symptoms such as stool changes, rectal bleeding, abdominal pain and unexplained weight loss can all signal colon cancer. But once these symptoms begin to develop, it may be a sign of more advanced disease, which can be harder to treat.

Myth: Only Caucasian men need to worry about colorectal cancer

Fact: Colorectal cancer does not discriminate. It affects individuals equally, regardless of gender and, typically, race. Studies suggest that African-Americans have a higher incidence of colorectal cancer and, therefore, might begin their screenings at age 45. Each year, about 150,000 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer and about 50,000 people will die from the disease, according to the American Cancer Society.

Myth: I don't need a colonoscopy until I am much older

Fact: Colonoscopy screening is recommended for men and women beginning at age 45. If you are younger than 45, but have other risk factors—such as family history of cancer, obesity, smoking, ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease—talk to your doctor about your screening needs.

Myth: All methods for colorectal cancer screening are equally as effective

Fact: There are several screening options for colorectal cancer, including flexible sigmoidoscopy, fecal occult blood test and double-contrast barium enema, but a colonoscopy is considered the most accurate. It detects more cancers, examines the entire colon, and can be used for screening, diagnosis and removing polyps in the same procedure.

Myth: Colonoscopies are unpleasant and uncomfortable.

Fact: The actual screening is not painful or unpleasant. During the actual test, patients are sedated to eliminate discomfort. A high percentage of our patients don't even remember the procedure at all. The procedure itself takes 15-30 minutes, and you can resume normal activities the next day.

Myth: Preparation for a colonoscopy is difficult

Fact: Preparing for a colonoscopy involves cleaning the colon with the help of fasting paired with prescription and over-the-counter laxatives. Ask your doctor about your options. The preparation can be inconvenient, but it is not difficult or painful. Most consider this the worst part of the procedure.

Myth: I can't afford it

Fact: Most insurance, as well as Medicare, cover a colonoscopy. Co-pay amounts, if required, will vary by plan. Also, if you qualify for a screening colonoscopy, under the Affordable Care Act, your colon screening could be of very little cost to Medicare and private insurance patients.

Myth: A polyp means I have cancer

Fact: Polyps are benign growths that left unchecked, have the potential to develop into cancerous tissue. Polyps can be easily removed during a colonoscopy eliminating the possibility that they will become cancerous.

West Valley Medical Center and Idaho Surgery Center have several physicians that are experts in colorectal cancer screening. Contact us at (208) 453-4206 today to arrange your screening needs.