It’s Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month: Should You Be Screened?

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“… But why are you here?”

I fielded that question on several occasions in my early 20s as I sat on a gurney in my hospital gown, waiting for a colonoscopy. I explained that my mother was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 32 and passed away at age 34.

You don’t have to be over 50 to develop colorectal cancer.

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. While in October we drench the Internet in pink, talking about our colons doesn’t seem to hold as much social cache.

Lack of awareness is costing lives. Those nurses’ questions while I sat on the gurney pointed to a larger problem: Physicians weren’t keeping colorectal cancer on their radar for younger patients either. According to the Colon Cancer Alliance, “Physician-related delays (e.g., missed symptoms, initial misdiagnosis) have been estimated to occur in 15-50% of young-onset colon cancer cases.”

Early detection is critical. The American Cancer Society states that the survival rate is about 90% when detected early, but currently, only about 4 out of 10 are diagnosed at this early stage.

4 out of 10 – That’s a huge disconnect.

Young-onset colorectal cancer is on the rise. It is time to take responsibility for our own health. That means knowing your family history, paying attention to your body, going into appointments armed with your questions, and knowing screening guidelines.

{ MORE: Cancer: A Family Affair }

You only see your doctor a couple of times each year. Make sure you provide the complete picture of your physical and mental health along with medications, life changes, and procedures at every visit. 

So when should you get screened?

  • If you are healthy and without other risk factors, you should get screened starting at age 50.
  • If you have additional risk factors, talk to your doctor about when you should begin screening. Risk factors include a history of polyps, Crohn’s disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or having an immediate relative (parent, sibling, or offspring) with colorectal cancer.

You can find more detailed information, risk factors, and screening guidelines through the Colon Cancer Alliance. They have created a section of their website specifically for those under 50.

Since my mother was diagnosed at age 32, and I have other family risk factors, I began getting screened when I was 20. While it may not be my favorite way to spend the day, I’ve seen up close what the alternative can be. Getting screened is one way I show my kids my commitment to them. I plan to stick around for a long, long time. 

{ MORE: What Can Be Done to Prevent Infertility After Cancer Treatment? }

Next week: So you need to get a colonoscopy? I’ll tell you what it’s really like.

What do you think?

It’s Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month: Should You Be Screened?

Tracy Jensen is a writer, marketer, mother, fundraiser, marathoner, and music lover. A working, single mom of two kids ages six and five, she is notorious for doing things the hard way. In addition to writing for EverydayFamily, she survives suburban exile by blogging about life’s foibles at It Builds Character. She can be found at night ignoring the dishes and playing on Twitter. ... More

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1 comment

  1. Profile photo of mommy nhoj mommy nhoj says:

    Indeed prevention and early detection is one of the keys!

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