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Colorectal cancer: 3 questions to ask your doctor

There’s a powerful tool that may help protect you from colorectal cancer: information. The more you learn about the disease, the easier it is to use your know-how to protect your health.

When it comes to what’s right for you, your primary care doctor is your best resource. So be sure to start a conversation at your next wellness checkup.

Here are three good questions to help you kick it off:

1. What’s my risk?

Colorectal cancer — cancer that affects the colon or rectum — can develop in anyone. But some people are more likely to get it than others.

For example, most cases occur in people older than 50. And your risk may be higher if you:

  • Are African American or an Ashkenazi Jew
  • Have a family history of colorectal cancer
  • Have had type 2 diabetes, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis or certain cancers
  • Are obese
  • Smoke
  • Drink heavily
  • Are inactive

Knowing your risk factors helps your doctor decide how closely to watch for the disease. It can also guide your decisions about how to protect yourself.

2. What can I do to lower my risk?

First, focus on the risk factors you can control. For instance, that might mean quitting smoking, shedding pounds or getting more active.

Some evidence suggests that eating a varied diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains — and limiting red and processed meats — may also be helpful.

Next, ask your doctor about your options for screening. Colorectal cancer is highly treatable when you catch it early.

Your doctor may have other tips for lowering your risk as well.

3. When should I start screening?

Most people should start screening for colorectal cancer at age 50. But depending on your risk factors, your doctor may suggest you start earlier.

Most health plans cover a routine preventive screening — when you don’t have symptoms — at no extra cost to you. Be sure to check your benefit plan to see what services may be covered.

What to do next

Talk with your doctor about colorectal cancer during your next checkup. For more good questions to ask, take this checklist with you.

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