“This is the reason he is alive and healthy,” said Dr. Laurence Ballou, James’ physician at Tidelands Health Gastroenterology. “It is always gratifying when what you find leads to a good result.”
Nearly one in three people who develop colorectal cancer have relatives who have had the disease, according to the American Cancer Society. If a parent, sibling or child had it, you’re more at risk of getting it, too.
Your risk increases further if a relative was diagnosed when he or she was younger than 45 – James’ relative was right at that age when she was diagnosed. Have more than one close relative with the cancer – another strike against James – and your chances of developing it increase even more.
“Family history is something we pay attention to,” Dr. Ballou said.
Colorectal cancer risk increases with age, which is why experts suggest most people start getting regular colonoscopies by age 50. The American Cancer recently dropped its suggested starting age to 45.
But folks like James with a family history of colorectal cancer should start their screenings earlier – 10 years before the age when the relative was diagnosed, Dr. Ballou said.
For example, if a relative was diagnosed with colorectal cancer when he or she was 45 years old, immediate family members should start screenings at age 35.
After seeing how James benefitted from the colonoscopy in 2011, some of his other relatives scheduled their own screenings.
“My other cousins went and got checked,” James said. “They decided they’d go.”
Other, less invasive screenings for colorectal cancer have popped up in recent years that test stool samples – you’ve probably seen the ads on TV.
“There’s no substitute for a colonoscopy,” Waninger said.
James has heard the excuses for not getting a colonoscopy – it’s invasive, embarrassing or simply not needed. He encourages folks to remember what’s at stake – your life and health.
“It’s nothing to it,” James said.
The worst part of the experience for him was the preparation the day before the procedure, which includes fasting and emptying your colon. Still, that brief discomfort is worth it – better than what you go through if the cancer isn’t caught early, he said.
Now 55, James feels great. He’s had follow-up colonoscopies in 2013 and 2016 – both showed no signs of the cancer returning.
James – who years ago resisted getting that first colonoscopy – now is quick to endorse colorectal cancer screenings; he might even hand you a small royal blue ribbon sticker, which aims to bring awareness to the disease.
And just like he inspired other relatives after his first colonoscopy, he’ll make sure his two kids – a 28-year-old daughter and 22-year-old son – get the same screening that saved his life when the time comes.
“We are probably going to start encouraging her shortly,” James said.