I spent the weekend with friends — some I see often, some I see rarely — and the conversation turned to updates on people we knew. Sadly, one had died recently and another was gravely ill. In both cases, the cause was colon cancer.

If you’re close to 50, sit up and pay attention now. Colon cancer is insidious. It is largely asymptomatic until it is in advanced stages, and once it’s in an advanced stage, it is very difficult to beat. However, it is relatively easy to fight if caught early — survival rates for Stage 0 and Stage 1 colon cancer are excellent.

That’s why it’s so important to have a baseline colonoscopy — for most people, at around age 50, though you should consult with your doctor. If you’re in your 40s, but at higher risk, you should probably also have a colonscopy. Here again, ask your doctor if you have an inflammatory bowel disease, a family history of colon cancer, or have had cancer in another part of your body. (This is just a partial list. See the excellent Mayo Clinic website for a comprehensive list of risk factors, as well as a lot of useful information about colon cancer in general.)

It’s the part about being under 50, but in a risk group, that is most important to consider, as far as I’m concerned. Especially for women. Lots of women put up with serious abdominal discomfort because, well, lots of women put up with discomfort of any sort. It’s the way a lot of us are built, or have learned to be. But honestly, it’s not that much of a virtue.

I had a diagnosis of ulcerative colitis in 2001, so I’ve already had the dubious pleasure of going through a few colonoscopies. And I can tell you that while it’s not the most fun I’ve ever had, peace of mind is worth all of the annoyance. Prepping for the procedure is the worst part — especially when you’re handed the GIANT bottle of solution you’re going to consume in a relatively short time-frame. I’m not going to kid you here, it’s vile. But we’re all grown-ups, and if drinking a bottle of nasty stuff helps save our lives, it’s worth doing, isn’t it?

So please, dear ones, if you’re over 50 and you haven’t had a baseline colonoscopy yet, talk to your doctor. If you’re not yet 50, but are in a risk group, talk to your doctor. There is absolutely NO reason for anyone to skip this life-saving test. I mean it from the bottom of my heart!

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