While you’re thinking about celebrating your birthday, you should keep in mind Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Sure, a colonoscopy doesn’t seem like an unorthodox way to to mark this milestone birthday, but it’s time to start considering how important this exam is. The American Cancer Society predicts more than 97,000 new incidents of colon cancer and more than 43,000 new cases of rectal cancer will be diagnosed in 2018. Furthermore, over 50,000 deaths contributed to this disease are predicted.

Who Should Get A Colonoscopy?

Generally, it’s recommended that all men and women should begin getting regular colonoscopies once they turn 50. If your first exam results are normal, you don’t have to worry about having another one for 10 more years. It’s a quick exam, done in the comfort of one of your Endoscopy Centers , and we will usually have you home recovering shortly afterward.

While the general population should begin getting exams at age 50, there are others who may be candidates for earlier screening. These can include patients with a personal history or a first degree family (parent, sibling, child) history of cancer, especially colorectal cancer, a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, a known family history of certain genetic colorectal cancer syndromes, and even people of certain ethnic backgrounds. For reasons that remain unclear, African Americans and Ashkenazi Jews both develop colon cancers at a high rate than the general population. If you fall into any of these high risk categories, you should begin discussions with your doctor for early screening.

What Can I Do To Reduce My Odds?

There are a number of risk factors that contribute to colorectal cancer, some that are within your control and others that are not. While you can not control your age, race, or family history, there are risk factors that are well within your control. Risk of colorectal cancer is much higher in overweight or obese patients, those who smoke or drink, people who eat an unhealthy diet, and those who don’t get enough physical activity or have long periods of sedentary time daily.

Why Are Colonoscopies So Important?

Some patients who have colorectal cancer might not even know, as it doesn’t always show symptoms and might only be discovered through regular screenings. When the disease does show symptoms, they’re not always severe, and are often similar to more benign diseases of the digestive tract. These symptoms include a change in bowel habits lasting more than a few days, weakness and fatigue, unintended weight loss, abdominal cramping, blood in the stool, rectal bleeding, and the feeling of needing to have a bowel movement that isn’t relieved once you have one.

If you haven’t started having regular colonoscopies and are already older than 50, you should schedule one today. If you’re approaching 50, or are in one of the high risk factor categories, schedule an appointment to discuss your options and how Carolina Digestive Health Associates can help you in the battle against colorectal cancer.