March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. We wanted to take this opportunity to help promote awareness of the importance of colorectal cancer screening, prevention, and treatment. As you get older, your risk of colorectal cancer increases, but regular screenings and conscious lifestyle choices can help reduce your risk. Understanding colorectal cancer, risk factors and getting regularly screened will help you get the help you need for the life you lead.
1. What is colorectal cancer?
Colorectal cancer can begin with a growth called a polyp inside the colon or rectum. It is common in both women and men, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 140,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed each year. At this time, colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of death from cancer in the United States, making screening tests an important part of your preventive care. Regular screenings from the ages of 45 to 75 can help prevent colorectal cancer and find it early, when treatment works best.
2. What are the risk factors for colorectal cancer?
There are three key risk factors to colorectal cancer:
- Age: The risk of developing colorectal cancer increases after age 50.
- Family history: If your family members have had ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, or colorectal cancer, you are at a higher risk.
- Lifestyle factors: Smoking and diets with high fat and low exercise can increase your risk of cancer.
You can minimize your risk by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and by getting screened regularly. Quitting smoking and exercising regularly may help reduce the risk for some cancers.
3. How can I get screened for colorectal cancer?
A screening is a preventive measure to look for colon cancer. It can help find cancer at an earlier stage, making it easier to treat. If the result of a screening test is abnormal, you will likely require additional tests to determine whether you have cancer.
A few types of colorectal cancer screenings include:
- Fecal occult– A lab test to check stool samples for hidden blood that can only be seen with a microscope
- Screening colonoscopy- A procedure to insert a thin, tube-like instrument with a lens and light into your rectum to view or remove polyps and tissue samples
- Virtual colonoscopy- Uses a series of x-rays to create detailed images of the colon
- Cologuard®- A stool-based test that can be done at home
- Sigmoidoscopy- Similar to a colonoscopy but does not probe your entire colon
Colon cancer screenings are reliable and have very few risk factors. In 2019, only two-thirds of adults aged 50-75 received colorectal screenings based on the most recent guidelines. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) suggests a screening colonoscopy once every 10 years, a computed tomography (CT) colonography once every 5 years, fecal DNA testing at least every 3 years, and sigmoidoscopy once every 5 years. If you have any questions about colorectal cancer screening, we recommend that you reach out to your doctor or health care provider.
4. Which types of screenings will Medicare cover?
If your doctor accepts Medicare, in most cases colorectal cancer screenings at the recommended intervals should be covered. A Medicare Advantage plan like ApexHealth covers the same services as Original Medicare. If you are an ApexHealth member and you have any questions about your coverage, please call your ApexAssistant.
5. Diagnostic colonoscopy vs. colonoscopy screening costs
This is the part where things may get a little tricky. A screening is a colonoscopy done for the prevention of colorectal cancers and is considered a preventive service. As long as your provider accepts your Medicare coverage, you will likely pay nothing for a screening at the recommended times. A diagnostic colonoscopy is done to investigate abnormal tests and symptoms. A diagnostic test may include out-of-pocket costs. For more information about diagnostic colonoscopy or colonoscopy screening costs, contact your healthcare provider or ApexAssistant.
ApexHealth is a Medicare Advantage plan that has your back. Give us a call at (844) 279-0508 (TTY: 711) to speak with an ApexAssistant. Our hours of operation are Monday through Friday 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. (local time) from Apr. 1 through Sept. 30 and seven days a week 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. (local time) from Oct. 1 through Mar. 31. For all matters related to your medical health, we recommend contacting your doctor or healthcare provider.