No Ifs, Ands, or Butts: It's Time to Chat About Colorectal Screening

Unless it’s quoting a pop song about booties, talking about the health of our backsides can feel as taboo as bringing up politics at the dinner table. There is a stigma around mentioning our excretory system; in polite society, it’s just not done! But despite the awkwardness, there is a reason to talk about your posterior’s wellbeing—our colon and rectum health is super important. So, let’s try to get comfortable as we get to the bottom of things, shall we?

A Brief Anatomy Lesson
We can start by demystifying the body parts that connect your stomach to your excretory system. Our digestive journey begins with the colon, which is also known as the large intestine or large bowel—aptly named because it measures a whopping five feet long. It plays a crucial role in our body by moving waste toward its destination—the rectum—before its grand exit.

What’s a Colorectal Screening For?
As we age, our bodies can produce abnormal growths called polyps in the colon or rectum. Although they are often non-cancerous, these growths can cause problems in the long run. Enter the colonoscopy, the superhero of colorectal screening. This procedure allows doctors to identify a polyp and remove it right then and there for testing. By getting these bad actors off stage early, we can prevent cancer from occurring or stop it from spreading.

Screening is paramount because patients with colorectal cancer often report zero symptoms. Getting screened is the only way to know if cancer is silently running amok in your colon. The CDC recommends adults who are at average risk start getting screened for colorectal cancer at age 45, but you might need to get screened sooner if you are considered high risk.

Who’s Considered High Risk?
If you have a family member with inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, a history of colorectal polyps or cancer, or a genetic predisposition to the condition, you should talk to your doctor about getting screened starting at an earlier age. Maxine Miller, MD, a colorectal surgeon at Northern Light Surgical Specialists, says she’s seeing colorectal cancer show up in younger folks too.

A Patient’s Perspective
For instance, Michelle M. from Newburgh was only 41 years old when her colorectal screening found cancer. She shares, “I had an abscess on my colon that required a colonoscopy to determine the next surgical step. During the procedure, the doctor removed a polyp that tested positive for cancer. Because of this finding, my doctors then ordered a full body scan that ultimately found thyroid cancer. If they hadn’t suggested a coloscopy I would have waited four more years to be screened, which may have been too late.”

Michelle acknowledges that no one really looks forward to getting a colonoscopy. She says, “The worst part really is in the preparation for the procedure,” which involves fasting, drinking liquids, and taking medicines that clean you out so the doctor can see a clear path. “It’s a small price to pay compared to potentially saving your life,” she adds.

Let’s Get Behind Talking About It
Consider talking to your loved ones about your family history and encourage them to schedule their screenings. Add it on your list of questions to ask your doctor during your annual primary care visit and discuss if a different kind of screening test such as home stool tests, a CT scan, or other option is appropriate for your medical condition. Don’t let your own discomfort get in the way of keeping you and your family healthy. Remember, a little awkwardness is a small price to pay for peace of mind.