As you get together with your family over this holiday season, it’s time to find out information that you may not already know. Sure, you could guess at your uncle’s favorite dessert. You know how your grandmother takes her coffee. You can remember your sister’s favorite color and that your cousin was the quarterback on his high school football team. But do you know your family’s medical history? Could you tell your doctor which family member discovered polyps after his last colonoscopy? Do you know if anyone in your family has been diagnosed with colon cancer? These questions are important because a family history of colorectal cancer greatly increases your own risk.
An Overview of Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer is the name given to cancer found in the large intestine. The exact placement of the cancer is what differentiates colon cancer from rectal cancer. Causes, symptoms, and treatments are very similar between the two. Colorectal cancer is difficult to treat in the late stages and unfortunately, is difficult to diagnose. This is why regular screenings are so important. A colonoscopy can discover the presence of adenomatous polyps, which are benign (non-cancerous) cell clumps. Polyps are rarely accompanied by any symptoms, so you would never know they were there. But, over time, these polyps can grow and become cancerous, finally producing symptoms of cancer. A colonoscopy will not only detect polyps but also allow your doctor to remove them before they become cancerous.
Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer
Symptoms of colorectal cancer include a change in bowel movements or a change in stool consistency that lasts longer than four weeks. If you notice blood in your stool or have the feeling that your bowel doesn’t completely empty, you should contact a gastroenterologist. Other symptoms such as weakness, fatigue, unexplained weight loss, or persistent pain in your abdomen could be indicators of colorectal cancer. Knowing your family history of colorectal cancer can play a major role in your urgency to make an appointment.
You Need To Know Your Family
Medical issues, especially if they pertain to GI problems, are not common topics of conversation. But they are important. Recently, a multicenter team from North America has conducted research that led them to establish a new guideline for the American Gastroenterological Association and the Canadian Association of Gastroenterology. This guideline is directed toward people who have a first-degree relative with a history of colorectal cancer. A first-degree relative includes parents, children, and siblings. While it is still beneficial to know your extended family’s medical history, their research found that the risk of diagnosis was elevated between first-degree relatives with colorectal cancer. In fact, if a first-degree relative was diagnosed with colorectal cancer, you are twice as likely to develop cancer than someone with no family history.
This research also discovered that relatives with advanced adenomas (a precursor to cancer) increased the risk of diagnosis in family members. The risk also seemed to rise if cancer developed in a first-degree relative at a younger age. While the risk of diagnosis was not affected by those who had a second-degree relative with cancer, doctors still agreed that regular, early screening was necessary. The research team found that the colonoscopy was the most reliable screening. A colonoscopy is recommended by age 45. But if you know your family history and whether or not you are high-risk, your doctor can determine the best age for your first screening. Dr. Sameer Islam is a trusted gastroenterologist in Lubbock, TX. If you learn about your family’s medical history this holiday season, make an appointment to discuss any questions you may have. Dr. Islam can go over your medical history, assess your risk, and talk to you about a screening.