A Birthday Present

My children remind me I’m much too transparent and forthcoming; “too much information, MOM!”   They could be right.   But some things shouldn’t be kept a secret.

If I were really transparent, I wouldn’t need to undergo a screening colonoscopy.  The human body only has two semi-transparent body parts–the tympanic membrane and the lens of the eye.  Both are wonderful windows to what can be seen behind and beyond the outer surface.   The bowel simply doesn’t cooperate without getting invasive.

So I spent my 56th birthday this week prepping and undergoing my second screening colonoscopy.   My first colonoscopy, at age 51, yielded several colonic polyps, one of which was considered pre-cancerous.  I don’t have a known family history of colon cancer (though my maternal grandmother did die in her sixties of a metastatic abdominal cancer of unknown source).

I’ve seen colorectal cancers strike people as young as 35, even those without known risk factors.  I’m even more of a believer that this is a completely preventable cancer if appropriate screening is done early enough.  The debate from a clinical evidence standpoint is whether a colonoscopy saves more lives than a limited sigmoidoscopy does.   In today’s Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), an editorial says that studies are not proving colonoscopy to be particularly effective at picking up lesions beyond the reach of the sigmoidoscope and isn’t necessarily saving lives.  This is where the studies and the individual patient don’t always agree.  My polyps have been beyond the range of the sigmoidoscope.  Only colonoscopy could find them.

Like it or not, I’m not keeping this a secret.  If you are fifty or older, you need to be screened.  If you have a family history of polyps or colon cancer, you need to be screened even earlier.

It’s the best birthday present you could ever give yourself.