For me, January is a time to organize, to donate household items that my family has outgrown, and to schedule health-related screenings, most notably my colonoscopy.
Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer diagnosed in men and women in the United States
Yes, I am aware that March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, but I am relaying this information early because, with the exception of skin cancer, colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer diagnosed in men and women in the United States and the second leading cause of death from cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that some 140,000 new cases will be diagnosed this year, but the good news is, colorectal cancer, if found early, is one of the most preventable and treatable cancers.
Affecting both men and women of all races and ethnicities, colorectal cancer occurs in the colon or rectum and typically develops as polyps, which are abnormal growths inside the colon or rectum that, if not removed, may become cancerous. While the cancer is found mostly in those 50 years old and above, the incidence in those younger than age 50 is on the rise. So, the American Cancer Society recently changed their screening recommendations for average-risk adults to begin at age 45.
How to reduce your risks of colorectal cancer
The best way to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer is by screening for the disease via a colonoscopy, an outpatient procedure which examines the full colon and allows a physician to identify and remove polyps during the process. There are several additional screening options, including at-home tests that can detect blood in the stool, but they are not definitive in identifying polyps, which are usually the precursor for this cancer.
Warning signs of precancerous polyps and colorectal cancers
There are no clear-cut symptoms associated with precancerous polyps and colorectal cancers, which is why screening is of the utmost importance, but warning signs might include blood in or on the stool, a change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea or constipation, persistent stomach pain, gas or cramps, unexplained weight loss, nausea and/or vomiting. However, many who are diagnosed with colorectal cancer never experience any symptoms.
I realize that people avoid colonoscopies because they are inconvenient, considered invasive, may disrupt the microbiome or merely due to procrastination, but the bottom line is this: Your risk of adverse events from a colonoscopy is lower than your risk of colorectal cancer, and many who receive the diagnosis have little or no risk factors.
Kick off the new year with an early colorectal screening
So, why am I suggesting kicking off the new year with an early colorectal screening? Because this procedure saved my life. At the age of 50, when I had my first colonoscopy, I was, against all odds, diagnosed with colorectal cancer. My surgeon believes the cancer began when I was in my mid 40s, and if I had put off the test for just a couple of years, my cancer most likely would have been inoperable. I hope you will take my experience into consideration and, please, don’t put off scheduling your colonoscopy another week, month or year. The time is now to be proactive and take the lead in anticipating a healthy 2019!