Saturday, March 5, 2011

Scope for Your Life

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

It is a month meant to educate the public of a disease that while largely preventable still claims more than 49,000 lives each year in the United States.

According to American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates, about 141,000 people will be diagnosed this year with the disease that is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in the U.S. and the third-leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women.

These figures are truly sobering when ACS studies theorize that most of these deaths could be prevented “by applying existing knowledge about cancer prevention and increasing the use of established screening tests.”

The fact is that colonoscopies save lives, particularly for those with a family history of colon cancer like myself and my wife.

Both of our fathers were diagnosed with advanced colorectal cancer. Her father – Grampa Harry – survived, miraculously, and is still a very important part of our lives. Mine, unfortunately, did not.

Being cognizant of this family history, however, is extremely important for us and our children.

There are no guarantees about the longevity of one’s life, but I know I stand a much better chance of being present for my children’s – and, someday, their children’s – lives by having regular colonoscopies to detect and remove pre-cancerous polyps.

My father’s adult life occurred before a great awareness of the benefits of preventive health. Without a family history of colorectal cancer, he may not have been advised to have a colonscopy.

In fact, I believe he may have had his first colonoscopy at age 62 to determine the origin and cause of his internal bleeding – symptoms that could no longer be overlooked or denied.

Image of advanced color cancer
That scope, unfortunately, was not preventive in nature. Rather, it informed his doctor that my father had stage IV colon cancer and presented Dad with a terminal diagnosis. He died three months later.

I cannot change history or turn the clock back to 1983 – when my father turned 50 – and urge him to have a preventive colonoscopy. What I can do, however, is ensure history does not repeat itself.

In the 15 years since my father’s death, I have become a big proponent of colonoscopies. And, in the words of Hair Club for Men President and TV pitchman Sy Sperling, “I’m also a client.” I had my first scope two years ago when I turned 40. I’m scheduled for another in three years – and every five after that, unless circumstances require otherwise.

Let’s face it, while the colonoscopy itself isn’t bad, the prep for it is not fun. But I’d much rather deal with the prep every five years than face the alternative.

If you’re age 50 or older and have never had a colonoscopy, or if you have a family history of colorectal cancer, schedule your scope this week. It could just save your life.

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