March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month.
While most Jews are aware of the genetically inherited diseases that affect our community, such as Tay-Sachs, few are aware of the increased risk posed by colon cancer to Ashkenasi Jews. While the average American has a 6 percent risk of developing colon cancer, this statistic is just a starting point for Jews.
A genetic mutation on the “colon cancer” gene is found in over 6 percent of all Ashkenasi Jews in America. This mutation is present in 28 percent of those Jews with a family history of colorectal cancer. Given the increased incidence of inflammatory bowel disease in the Jewish population – Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, which also predisposes to a higher colon cancer rate – it can be asserted confidently that the average Ashkenasi Jew in America is at a higher than average risk for colorectal cancer.
This would qualify Jewish patients for a more appropriate screening strategy for colorectal cancer, one reserved for people at a higher-than-normal risk. This would include a screening colonoscopy at least by age 50. If any relatives have had colon cancer or colon polyps, then the first colonoscopy should be done by at least age 40. Jews should view this as nothing more than routine screening, like prostate exams, PAP smears, and mammographies.
If you are due for a colonoscopy, now is the time. If someone you love is due, it is time to start reminding them!