Earlier this week, I shared a story on social media about a rise in colon cancer cases. The same day, I had my second colonoscopy.
For the second time in my life, I underwent a colonoscopy earlier this week. The first time happened three years ago when I was 51.
At that time, I was a year late in having my first one. By today’s standards, I’d have been six years late. Health experts now recommend people — particularly those at risk — have their first colonoscopy at age 45.
Colon cancer cases rise for younger people
NBC News reported experts aren’t sure why colon cancer is on the rise for people in their 30s and 40s.
Colon cancer is the third-leading cause of death for people of all ages. But colon and rectal cancers have become leading causes of cancer death in younger adults. Add to that this key fact:
Dr. William Dahut, the chief scientific officer at the American Cancer Society, said younger people tend to be diagnosed at later stages, when the cancer is more aggressive.
That’s a good reason to get your first colonoscopy sooner rather than later.
My first colonoscopy was three years ago
It’s almost hard to believe it was that long ago. But I underwent the procedure for the first time in January of 2021.
Like most people, I wasn’t so afraid of the actual procedure. I knew I’d be out. No, I’m not Katie Couric and there’s absolutely nothing in there I wanted to see on a monitor, thank you very much.
What scared me most was the dreaded prep that happens the evening before. A high school classmate had posted some somewhat disturbing descriptions of the procedure to prepare. It involves drinking more laxatives than any human being would ever intentionally consume in one day at any other occasion. I believe I remember that post stating that he thought his guts finally let go of a burger he’d eaten during his senior year of high school.
That’s not the kind of thing you want to read before you take the first sip of the prep concoction of course.
I have suffered with bouts of irritable bowel syndrome, so for me at least, the prep really wasn’t that bad. Reading those terrible accounts may have helped. They certainly prepared me for the absolute worst, and few things ever reach that level of horrible. Prep day isn’t nearly as horrible as some people like to make it out to be.
Not even close.
During my first one, the gastroenterologist found three polyps. Two of them, he said, were precancerous.
That meant I did not have cancer, he stressed. But it also meant that had I scheduled the screening, those polyps, over time, would likely have become cancer.
My second colonoscopy went even better
This time, as I was in the recovery room after the procedure, my gastroenterologist entered the room with a smile. No polyps. Everything looked great.
I don’t have to go back for five years. They keep it at five for me since my dad has a history of polyps. It’s a precaution, of course, but consdering the fact that it can prevent what could be a deadly form of cancer if it isn’t caught in time, I’ll happily go back in five years.
I’ll bore you with a few quick numbers. They’re important.
Data from the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable shows the incidence rate in colorectal cancer dropped 46% since its peak in 1985. The NCCR lists two reasons: declines in some risk factors like smoking and the uptake in screening.
Even better: the data shows a 57% drop in the overall death rate since 1970. They chalk that up to earlier detection and improvements in treatment.
Being screened helps your doctor find problems before they become cancer. During the screening, the gastroenterologist can remove polyps right then.
I think it’s important to get screened at 45 and then again whenever the doctor says you need to be back. Colon cancer is a relatively slow-moving cancer. So if you wait years between screenings following doctor’s orders, there’s generally plenty of time to catch a potential problem before it becomes a real one.
But the first step has to be yours: Make that appointment and get screened!