Do you know how much your family matters? Hopefully, you have fond memories of your family. You see the value they bring to your life. You may dream of having your own family one day and anticipate making memories and creating traditions together. A family is meant to offer support, stability, encouragement, teach you about caring for others, and so much more. Believe it or not, part of that “so much more” includes helping you stay healthy. The best way to stay healthy and avoid an unwanted diagnosis is to know your family’s medical history. When you know their history, you better understand your own risk and can get necessary screenings that may be lifesaving. As you consider all of the ways your family matters to you, remember their medical history matters, too!

Colorectal Cancer at a Glance

Colon cancer and rectal cancer are often combined into one term: colorectal cancer. This general term denotes cancer in the large intestine. The individual terms are used once the specific location of the cancer is determined. Unfortunately, colorectal cancer is difficult to diagnose in early stages. In most cases, the cancer is in a late, and fatal, stage once discovered. During a colonoscopy, however, the presence of polyps can be detected and easily removed before they turn into cancer. Adenomatous polyps are noncancerous clumps of cells that develop in your large intestine. Because symptoms are not attached to pre-cancerous polyps, a colorectal screening can be lifesaving.  

Clues to Colorectal Cancer

If polyps remain undetected and become cancerous, symptoms will develop. You will notice changes in your bowel movements and stool consistency. If these changes remain for four weeks or more, it’s time to make an appointment with your gastroenterologist. A bloody stool is also an indicator of colorectal cancer as well as the persistent feeling that you have not emptied your bowel. Symptoms include weakness, fatigue, unexplained weight loss, and discomfort in your abdomen. Stomach cramps and consistent pain should give you a sense of urgency to talk to your doctor, especially if you have a family history of polyps or colorectal cancer.

Your Family Matters

The exact causes of colorectal cancer are unknown and more research is needed. However, a team of physicians that create guidelines for the American Gastroenterological Association and the Canadian Association of Gastroenterology recently determined that people with a first-degree relative diagnosed with colorectal cancer are twice as likely to develop this cancer themselves. These results are staggering. This shows you how vital it is to know your family’s medical history. A first-degree relative is a parent, sibling, or child. It is imperative for you to find out if they have ever had an advanced adenoma, which is a precursor to cancer, or colorectal cancer. If they have, your chances of diagnosis are doubled. 

Knowing your family member’s age at the time of diagnosis is also key. If cancer developed at a younger age in your family member, your first screening will need to be at a younger age. While this news can be overwhelming, you can rest in the availability and accuracy of colonoscopies. The American Cancer Society recommends your first colonoscopy should take place at 45 years of age. But because they can easily identify polyps and allow your GI specialists to remove them before they develop into cancer, the younger you begin screening, the better. If your doctor determines that you are at high-risk for colorectal cancer, you can begin regular screening to detect polyps and avoid a future diagnosis. This is one of the many reasons your family matters! 

It’s time to talk to your family about their medical history of polyps and colorectal cancer. If you have questions or concerns about your risk for colorectal cancer or want to schedule a colonoscopy, make an appointment at Cary Gastro today.