In the United States, the second-leading cancer-caused death is colorectal cancer. Some of the common signs of colon cancer include blood in the stool, excessive diarrhea or constipation or bowel movement, fatigue, and/or rectal bleeding (“Colorectal Cancer”). Keep in mind, however, that these signs don’t necessarily guarantee colon cancer. Nonetheless, it is always important to screen for cancer. In order to make a screening decision, I urge you to read the other articles about screening options such as colonoscopies, FIT, and colonguard. It’s a tough decision—one to discuss with your doctor.

While colorectal cancer occurrence has decreased over the years, it is still a major issue, if we consider the amount of people who don’t screen early enough to catch their colon cancer. In fact, only 40% of colon cancer cases are caught early (and in the early stages of cancer, the survival rate can be up to a staggering 90%!). Often times, I will tell family members, “Please get screened for colon cancer as early as possible.” Unfortunately the typical response may be, “I’m not 50 yet”, “Are you cursing me?”, or “It’s too expensive.” Even when people find a screening method that is affordable, such as the FIT test, it still may not be accurate enough. Many people still do not screen for cancer when they turn 50, even though this promise is a “rule.”

And then there’s the situation in which the doctor misdiagnoses a patient; in the US, misdiagnoses potentially affect more than 12 million patients (Rettner). While misdiagnosis regarding colon cancer in adults is not extremely common (0.007%), according to LiveScience, it is still important to note that a misdiagnosis’ consequences are often severe, considering that if the cancer is caught in the late stages, the survival rates aren’t as high. Even more so, this percentage of 0.007% could be even higher, considering that medical records may not completely capture the magnitude of the amount of misdiagnoses. Often times, the colon cancer can be mistaken as another disease, and vice versa.

It is important to prevent misdiagnoses and be proactive in learning more about the accuracy of screening methods for colorectal cancer.

In particular, patients can be misdiagnosed with inflammatory bowel diseases and hemorrhoids. Specific inflammatory bowel diseases include irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulitis, and ulcerative colitis. Irritable bowel syndrome is an inflammatory condition that affects the colon, causing moderate to severe discomfort and pain (“Irritable bowel syndrome”). However, irritable bowel syndrome actually may not increase the chances of colon cancer. Diverticulitis is a disease in which pouches form in the colon wall and become inflamed (Brody), while ulcerative colitis is a severe, debilitating disease in which ulcers line the inner lining of the colon (“Ulcerative colitis”). Finally, hemorrhoids, meanwhile, are swollen veins in the lower rectum and anus. While hemorrhoids may not be life threatening, they can be extremely uncomfortable (“Hemorrhoids”).

Because these conditions have similar effects as colon cancer and may even be a risk factor for colon cancer, it is critical that you ask your doctor about your disease. Considering that current screening methods do not detect colon cancer with 100% accuracy, colon cancer can be easily misdiagnosed, leading to severe consequences down the road. If you are diagnosed with a hemorrhoid or a irritable bowel syndrome, there’s a chance that it may actually be colon cancer. Of importance, if something doesn’t seem right, make sure to ask your doctor. It is essential that you are diagnosed correctly, so that you can catch and treat for your cancer early on. Even consider discussing with your doctor about perhaps increasing the frequency of screening—rather than just every 5 to 10 years—or using multiple screening methods!

Sources:

Brody, Jane E. “Detecting Colon Cancer When It Is Curable.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 27 Sept. 1999, www.nytimes.com/1999/09/28/health/personal-health-detecting-colon-cancer-when-it-is-curable.html.

“Colorectal Cancer.” Cancer Research Institute, Cancer Research Institute, www.cancerresearch.org/we-are-cri/home/cancer-type...

“Hemorrhoids.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 27 Apr. 2017, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hemorrhoids/symptoms-causes/dxc-20249175.

“Irritable Bowel Syndrome.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 18 Nov. 2017, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/irritable-bowel-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20360016.

Rettner, Rachael. “12 Million Misdiagnoses Occur Yearly in US, Study Finds.” LiveScience, Purch, 16 Apr. 2014, www.livescience.com/44888-misdiagnosis-doctors-visits.html.

“Ulcerative Colitis.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 28 July 2017, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/ulcerative-...