It has only been a couple of years since I had a colonoscopy, but each year during the month of March, I think about it. Not simply because it is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, but because I have at least one serious risk factor that makes me more vulnerable: Heredity.
My maternal Grandfather had colon cancer, and by the time it was diagnosed, it had progressed to the point that surgery to remove a large section of his bowel and a colostomy bag were his only options.
I reflected on my Papa while waiting for a dear friend to finish her last radiation treatment for a different form of cancer. The waiting room was decorated with lots of deep blue streamers, awareness ribbons, balloons, and literature to capture attention and focus awareness to colorectal cancer.
One of the brochures I read while waiting for my friend was published by Colon Cancer Prevention Project at KickingButt.org.
The Colon Cancer Prevention Project states, “Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in both men and women. The good news is that colon cancer is very preventable and we’re going to show you how!”
Know Your Risk Factors
There are three main categories of risks:
- Genetic Risks – Although, 5-10% of all cancers are related to genetics, nearly 50% of colon cancers under the age of 50 are a direct result of heredity. In the case of seniors ages 65+, genetic factors may not be as clear, but the National Institutes for Health (NIH) National Library of Medicine reports, “The greatest burden from colorectal cancer falls on the elderly, with nearly 70% of cases diagnosed in those older than age 65 and 40% diagnosed in those over 75 years of age. As a result, approximately 75% of colorectal cancer deaths occur in people older than 65 years of age.”
- Physical Risks – Physical conditions like Crohn’s disease or Colitis may increase the risk of developing colon cancer. It is recommended that seniors – or anyone – with these or similar gastrointestinal issues be screened more frequently.
- Lifestyle Risks – Smoking, alcohol use, consumption of red meats and processed foods, and obesity are considered lifestyle risks that may increase the likelihood of colon cancer.
Understanding your risk factors and making good choices can truly make a positive difference in colon cancer prevention.
Know the Symptoms
- Changes in Stool – Pay attention to your bowel movements (BM) and changes in your stool:
- Narrowing of feces
- Dark stool
- Blood in stool
- Rectal bleeding
- Feeling a need to have BM, but no relief after doing so
- Cramping or Abdominal Pain
- Unintended Weight Loss
- Weakness & Fatigue
If you notice any of the above symptoms do not hesitate to contact your doctor immediately!
Know Your Number
According to Colon Cancer Prevention Project, “If you have no risks of colon cancer, getting screened beginning at age 45 is appropriate. 45 is your number. If you have one direct relative (parent, sibling) or two secondary relatives (grandparent, aunt uncle, etc) who have/had colon cancer or precancerous polyps (adenomas), you need to subtract 10 years from their age of diagnosis” to get your number. For instance, if your Mom was screened at age 60 and they found polyps, you should be screened at age 50.
“The joint guidelines from the American Cancer Society, U.S. Multisociety Task Force on Colorectal Cancer and the American Radiological Society made the following recommendations regarding the screening of average risk men and women beginning at age 50: flexible sigmoidoscopy to 40 cm or splenic flexure every 5 years, colonoscopy every 10 years, double contrast barium enema every 5 years, and computer tomography colonography every 5 years,” states the NIH.
Don’t let that technical jargon scare you. There are many options for screenings, so it is best to speak to your doctor to determine which is best for your endgame!
My Grandfather did not die of colon cancer, but he did live with that colostomy bag for the remainder of his life. By being proactive and staying on track with colon cancer screening every 5 years, or as recommended by my doctor, I hope to remain cancer-free! If questionable polyps are detected, and a colon cancer diagnosis is revealed, early detection will result in more desirable treatment options and a more favorable prognosis.
I strongly encourage you to talk to your doctor about your risk factors or any symptoms you are experiencing and schedule a colon cancer screening or colonoscopy sooner than later.
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Colon Cancer Prevention Project
National Library of Medicine