Talking to patients about disease prevention and improving their health isn’t always easy. It’s like when your mom told you to eat your fruits and vegetables and you would roll your eyes…or was that just me? Every day doctors are faced with the challenge of not only caring for the patient’s immediate issues but reminding them to exercise, nudging them to lose weight and recommending appropriate screening tests. For me, I often get to recommend the ultimate trifecta: a mammogram, pap test and colonoscopy. Patients look at me like I have offered them a few hours locked in a small room with screaming children. Seriously.
March is colorectal cancer awareness month. Despite being a preventable disease, it is the second leading cause of cancer death in our country. Colon cancer screening is recommended for everyone age 50 and above. The polyps that become colon cancer usually don’t have symptoms which means you need a colonoscopy to find them and remove them. Some patients are at an increased risk of colorectal cancer above the rest of the population. Patients with inflammatory bowel diseases or a family history of colon cancer are at increased risk. About 5% of patients with colorectal cancer will have a genetic predisposition for the disease, such as Lynch syndrome, which is a genetic condition associated with an increased risk of colon, uterine and other cancers. Patients who are overweight or have poor diets may be at increased risk.
Therefore, your favorite gynecologist gets to recommend such tests and you get to roll your eyes at me. See the pattern here? In all seriousness, about 1/3 of adults who need colon cancer screening don’t get it. And I understand the eye rolling, I really do. It’s not like people look forward to having a colonoscopy. Or going to the gynecologist at that. I tell my patients that at least when I go to the dentist I feel like I’m a bright, cleaner person at the end of the visit. I’m not sure anyone leaves my office, or their mammogram or colonoscopy with the same thoughts. So I get it.
But here’s the deal. We don’t recommend these uncomfortable tests because we like seeing you squirm around on the exam table. We do it because cancer screening saves lives. March for myself and the pastor means lots of basketball and brackets and yelling at the tv. We love the madness. But when you think of march, think about reducing your risk of cancer. Know your family history. Eat your fruits and veggies and go to the gym. See your doctor. And get your colorectal cancer screening. It won’t be the best day of your life, but it just might be the day that saves it.