Family History: Make this Thanksgiving Colon Healthy

The holidays are just around the corner, and guess what? You are hosting this year! Everyone knows that being prepared is one of the most important components of hospitality, so it’s not too early to start the To-Do lists. You take a sheet of paper (or open up the Notes section of your smartphone) and begin to make a bulleted list: Who is coming to Thanksgiving dinner? Which vegetables and sides are favored by all? How many pies do we need? What are some conversation topics that will involve everyone but offend no one?

One common thread that binds the people around your table is family health history. While it may seem odd to initiate a holiday conversation about genetically inherited conditions at the holidays, it is actually an appropriate topic for an extended family gathering. After all, what other time of year do you have your entire family in the same room? Your family members are the people whom you love most, and you want them to be as healthy as possible.

Gastrointestinal conditions such as gallstones, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and colon cancer often run in families, and researchers are finding that family history plays a more significant role than previously thought. Let’s consider colon cancer, for example. As the third-leading cause of cancer death in the United States, you have a 1 in 20 chance of developing colon cancer. There are many factors that can increase your risk for colon cancer, such as:

  • Age
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Alcohol use
  • Eating a high-fat diet
  • Not eating enough fiber

However, family history is now emerging as one of the most important risk factors for colon cancer.

The best news is that colon cancer is preventable through screening colonoscopies, but timing is essential. The American Cancer Society now recommends that if you have a first-degree relative (a parent, sibling or child) that had colorectal cancer or adenomatous polyps, you should have your first colon cancer screening 10 years before the youngest case in the immediate family.

This means that if one of your relatives was diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 55, any brother/sister and son/daughter needs to have a first screening by age 45. Specific ages and details may be difficult to remember, but it is made much easier when your family is all around the table together. You can all participate and collaborate together to determine who needs a colonoscopy.

Here are some questions that you can ask at the holiday table to generate conversation:

  • What diseases or conditions run in our family?
  • Who developed these diseases, and did they receive treatment?
  • At what age was the disease or condition diagnosed?
  • Do we all know the appropriate screening age so all of our family members can be tested at the correct time?
  • Do we all know the warning signs and symptoms for this condition?

As your loved ones gather for the holidays, consider taking time to discuss your family's health history. By doing so, you may discover that you or some family members are overdue for an important screening. By knowing the diseases that run in your family, each member can be on the lookout for potential concerns and be prepared to take preventive action.

One simple holiday conversation could save a life. Ask good questions. Listen well. This will help ensure that all your loved ones are sitting around the family table together for years to come.

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