It’s probably not that common for people to celebrate going to their GI doctor, but maybe you should start this year. March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, so wear blue in March to show your support, but more importantly, contact Needham Gastroenterology Associates for an appointment to check on your colorectal health.  While a GI appointment doesn’t sound that exciting, it’s important to keep yourself healthy and make sure you’re getting all the necessary screening and testing to help prevent and treat colorectal cancer.

Who Gets Colorectal Cancer?

Unfortunately, nobody is immune to this form of cancer. Most forms of the cancer are first detected through the development of polyps, small growths within the inner lining of the colon or rectum. Colorectal cancer typically starts in the innermost layers of your organs and can grow throughout the walls of the organ, carrying cells throughout the body if it isn’t treated in time. While technically anyone can develop this cancer of the GI tract, it is most commonly seen in patients over the age of 50. While that has been the case historically, we are seeing a slow rise in incidence of the disease in younger patients. Both men and women are affected, with men having a slightly higher risk. Additionally, patients with certain inherited conditions, type 2 diabetes, or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), members of certain ethnic groups, and those with a family history of the disease are at a higher risk. If you fall into one those categories, please speak to your doctor about your screening needs. Patients who are overweight, live sedentary lifestyles, people who smoke or drink heavily, or those with an unhealthy diet are also more prone to developing colorectal cancer. It’s never too late to change those aspects of your life, so it might also be time to discuss diet and an exercise routine with your doctor.

What Screening Tools Are Available?

Your best tool against colorectal cancer is a colonoscopy. Colonoscopies are quick exams conducted in our endoscopy center, usually lasting around an hour or less. One of our doctors will insert a small, lighted tube through the digestive tract, looking for polyps. If we discover anything suspicious, it can be tested for cancer, with treatment proceeding as needed based on your individual case. If your test results are normal, you typically don’t have to come back in for another colonoscopy for ten years.

One of the reasons that a colonoscopy is so important is that many colorectal cancer patients might not even know they’re sick in the early stages. Colorectal cancer doesn’t always show symptoms, and when symptoms are evident, they often mimic those of less serious GI issues. Symptoms include weakness and fatigue, a change in bowel habits lasting more than a few days, abdominal cramping, unintended weight loss, 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 have observed any of these symptoms, request an appointment to see a member of our team to determine if you need a colonoscopy.

So if you’re interested in celebrating something exciting this year, make sure you’re celebrating proper GI health through regular appointments and screening. If you’re 50, or close to celebrating that milestone birthday, book an appointment with Needham Gastroenterology Associates now. If you’re in a known risk group or showing suspicious symptoms, it’s time to have a conversation with a member of the Needham Gastroenterology Associates team about your options.