1. Am I up-to-date on my colorectal cancer screenings?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 60 percent of colorectal cancer deaths could be prevented if everyone age 50 and older were routinely screened for the disease. The big five-zero really should mean scheduling a colonoscopy. It's the best birthday gift you could give yourself and your family. If you've already passed that milestone, it's never too late to get screened. If you’re at high risk for colorectal cancer—if, for example, you have IBD or certain genetic factors—you should get screened even earlier. Talk to your doctor now.

2. What is my BMI?

Body mass index (BMI) is a height-to-weight ratio that helps indicate whether you're overweight or obese. Because two-thirds of adults in the United States are overweight or obese, being big may seem normal. This makes it harder to determine with a simple glance in the mirror whether you're at a healthy weight. BMI is a more objective measure of fitness than looks, and being overweight increases your risk for digestive system cancers, especially esophageal cancer and colorectal cancer, GERD, gallstones, liver disease, and other problems.

3. What are my options for smoking cessation?

Smoking significantly increases your risk for digestive system cancers and other digestive system disorders. If you smoke, ask your doctor about how to quit. More effective alternatives have emerged in recent years, and one of them may work for you. Many states as well as local communities offer hot lines and other means of free support to those who are trying to quit. These programs may even pick up the cost of any medications your doctor prescribes.

4. What are my individual risk factors for digestive disease?

It's no surprise that the risk of digestive disease edges higher as we age. But your risk depends on other factors as well. Men, for instance, have a higher rate of colon cancer than women. A family history of colon cancer or polyps also raises your risk. Women are more likely than men to develop gallstones. Unsafe sexual practices can put you at risk of contracting hepatitis B. Even having a colorful travel history may increase your risk of contracting an equally colorful viral, parasitic, or other gastrointestinal infection.

5. What health promotion programs are available in our community?

"Sisters Together: Move More, Eat Better" is a free federal government program that helps volunteers start local health awareness programs targeted toward black women. This innovative initiative is just one example of the bounty of health promotion resources offered by federal and state governments. In addition, senior centers, hospitals, churches, private foundations, and nonprofit groups within local communities often sponsor free or low-cost programs to promote fitness, weight management, chronic disease prevention, and health education. You might not know about them, but your doctor probably does. Just ask!