A couple of years ago I had my first colonoscopy. No it’s not typical for a guy in his mid-twenties to have the marginally annoying anal-probing procedure, but I did. There were two major reasons for me to get the ol’ colon checked out: one was my family and the other was my family history.
During a routine wellness visit with my doctor, the greatest internist I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing, we started to revisit my family history of disease. I reminded him of the diabetes, the high blood pressure, and the thyroid conditions. He took notes and blood (at the time he still took blood himself, though he has “people” that do it now). I then mentioned opened up my family history in regards to colon cancer. He asked me if anyone in my immediate family had the disease, I told him yes. He asked me who they were and their ages, I told him that too. He looked at me and smiled. He said “you need to have a colonoscopy.” I replied that yes I was in a high risk category (me being a black male and all), but not quite 50 years old yet, which is the standard age for people to start getting checked. Then he explained something to me that I had never heard before.
If there is a strong family history of colon cancer where an immediate family member, (your father, mother, or sibling) has or has had the disease, then you should have a colonoscopy ten years earlier than whatever the age of the youngest person with the disease was at the time of their diagnosis.
Crap. I needed a colonoscopy.
After getting over the shock of having to concern myself with such things at such a tender young age I set up an appointment with one of the most well-regarded specialists in NYC, who just so happened to have been my primary doctor a few years ago. We had a consultation and he explained in greater detail the reason for my needing the procedure. He stated that it usually takes about ten years for a polyp to become cancer, which is why colon cancer is one of the more preventable and treatable cancers. Therefore if you have the procedure done roughly around the time when you may start forming polyps and they are removed if present, then you substantially raise your chances of not developing the disease. We also discussed the stages of polyp development including early benign (not precancerous) and precancerous which means you just got it in time if you are having one of those suckers removed.
The explanation didn’t matter much to me though – he had me at hello. For me personally it was much easier to reconcile the situation: I had a wife and a kid so I was getting the recommended colonoscopy. The day before the procedure, I must admit is pretty wack, but necessary. Your digestive system must be clear in order for unobstructed viewing of your colon to be possible. That’s why you have to fast and take this hardcore sulfur laxative. On the bright side the drugs for the procedure are friggin’ awesome and all I remember is asking the doctor if he was going to buy me a drink before sticking that thing up my ass, then I was out. I woke up in recovery feeling good about life. A nurse handed me a picture of my insides, told me that a polyp was removed and would be biopsied. A couple of semi-tense weeks later I was given a clean bill, and told that I would need to have it done all over again at 30.
The moral of the story is to get regular checkups, know your family history, report it clearly to your doctor, and take action. Do it for yourself and do it for your family. Live long and prosper dammit. Life is too short not to.