Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month: Who Should be Tested and How Often?

With March being Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, the Digestive Health Institute is providing people with helpful insight regarding colorectal health, including understanding colonoscopies, who should be screened and why, Colorectal Cancer risk and treatment, and more.

Once you reach your mid-40s, like many Americans, the youthful myth of immortality has waned precipitously. As a result, you may begin making severe changes to your daily habits to support a healthier lifestyle. Maybe you eat less fast food. Perhaps you curb your drinking somewhat. You may even start using that gym membership more often. But are you thinking more about your colorectal health? Unfortunately, too many are not.

Once you reach the age of 45, the American Cancer Society, along with doctors and, yes, even your insurance company, recommend speaking with your general practitioner about scheduling a colorectal screening, commonly referred to as a colonoscopy.

Suppose you are younger than 45 but carry a family history of colorectal health issues, including Colorectal Cancer (or what many alternatively refer to as Colon Cancer). In that case, you should also speak with your doctor about early screening.

Other matters of health history that may heighten your chances of developing Colorectal Cancer include:

  • Previous Colorectal Cancer diagnosis
  • History of adenomas (benign tumors)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (i.e., Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative colitis)
  • Family or personal history of polyps
  • Lynch Syndrome or other hereditary colon diseases
  • Digestive issues or symptoms thereof

While age and family history are two of the most common criteria used to determine whether you should undergo a colonoscopy to check for Colorectal Cancer, the likelihood and survivability of the disease can be significantly influenced by other demographic factors such as race.

It is recommended that you speak with your doctor about your unique risk profile based on the spectrum of your personal health history, your family’s health history, your background, and even your diet and lifestyle.

If you think because you’ve had no family history of Colorectal Cancer or are traditionally of good health that, you have little to nothing to concern yourself with, think again. Colorectal Cancer does not discriminate. Other risk factors, lifestyle choices, and behaviors may put you at risk of Colorectal Cancer. These include:

  • Being overweight
  • Living a sedentary lifestyle
  • Smoking
  • Heavy alcohol consumption
  • Not enough fruits or vegetables in your diet
  • Not enough whole-grain fiber in your diet
  • Calcium deficiency
  • Frequent consumption of red meat
  • Frequent consumption of processed meat

So, you’ve had your colonoscopy. Now what?

Suppose the results of your colorectal screening come back clean, with no evidence of polyps, cancerous tumors, or other reasons for concern. In that case, it is recommended you are screened again every ten years. Once again, however, your doctor may recommend more frequent screenings if you have a family history or any of the additional risk factors listed above. After all, early detection and early treatment are your best defenses against Colorectal Cancer.

Occasionally, the gastroenterologist may find something while performing your colonoscopy, such as a polyp. A polyp is a small, usually benign (or non-cancerous) growth within the colon. In these cases, the gastroenterologist will remove the polyp for further testing. You should know, however, that Colorectal Cancer has an incredibly high survivability rate when caught and treated early on.

We’ll discuss survival rates and early detection in the event of a Colorectal Cancer diagnosis in our next Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month blog, so check back next week!

Get Screened for Colorectal Cancer Today!

If you are over 45, haven’t been screened for ten years or more, or have any of the high-risk factors outlined above in your personal or family health history, we recommend you get screened for Colorectal Cancer immediately. The first step is scheduling your colonoscopy with one of our gastroenterologists at the Digestive Health Institute.

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