Column: Family Matters, Prevent Colon Cancer for Self and Loved Ones

Column: Family Matters, Prevent Colon Cancer for Self and Loved Ones


It may never feel like a “good time” to have a colonoscopy. You might have already used the excuse that the preparation day before a colonoscopy is unpleasant and cuts into your busy schedule — and then you put it off another year. But momentary discomfort or inconvenience is a small price to pay for saving your life.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of death from cancer in the United States. Only 40 percent of colorectal cancer cases are found in the early stages when it is most treatable. Consider the implications of not getting screened, or of a family member putting off screening until it is too late. If you are over 50 years old and of average risk, you should get screened for colorectal cancer. Those at higher risk may need to be screened earlier. And colorectal cancer, long thought of as a disease of older adults, has been rising in young adults — which makes it especially important for people of all ages to be aware of risk factors like tobacco use, obesity and heavy drinking, as well as family history.

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. There is no need to be uncomfortable talking about colorectal cancer. Make this a conversation topic in your family and encourage them to speak with their health care professionals about getting screened. Nearly everyone has lost a loved one to cancer, and colorectal cancer is a disease that takes too many lives each year. This year an estimated 132,700 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Worse, nearly 50,000 people will die from it. In 2014 about 136,830 people are predicted to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in the United States, and about 50,310 people are predicted to die of the disease. Don’t become a statistic. Start taking preventive steps today.

Determine your family history of cancer and talk with your health care professional about colorectal cancer screening options. Experts recommend both men and women over 50 of average risk get screened. A colonoscopy allows medical professionals to examine the entire colon and remove any polyps (pre-cancerous growths) before they ever become cancerous. When colon cancer is found early, it is more treatable, and the five-year survival rate is 90 percent. If you cannot or will not have a colonoscopy, there are a variety of other screenings available, such as a virtual colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy or double-contrast barium enema. Talk to your health professional about what is best for you.

Some people need to start screening earlier because they are at a higher risk of colon cancer — they have personal histories of colorectal cancer, pre-cancerous polyps or inflammatory bowel disease; family histories of colorectal cancer, polyps or a hereditary colorectal cancer syndrome; or have Type 2 diabetes. Colorectal cancer incidence and mortality rates are highest in African-American men and women; incidence is about 25 percent higher and mortality rates are about 50 percent higher than those in Caucasians.

Healthy living is a vital step to cancer prevention and can lower risk for colorectal cancer. Maintain a healthy weight and stay active by exercising regularly for 30 minutes at least five times a week. Eat a nutritious diet low in red and processed meats (such as bacon or sausage) and full of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Do not smoke and only drink alcohol in moderation. Use these tips to live a healthier life today, and share this information with family and friends.

Colorectal cancer is treatable, especially if caught early. Talk with your family and loved ones about ways to reduce their colorectal cancer risk. Visit for more information about cancer prevention and early detection.

Megan Beyer is the wife of U.S. Rep. Donald S. Beyer Jr. (D-8) and is a member of Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program of the Prevent Cancer Foundation. All statistics are provided by the American Cancer Society.