Colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers in the U.S., but there are reliable screening tests that can help find the disease and save lives.
The colon is a large organ with lots of places for cancer to hide. Early-stage colorectal cancer can be “silent,” which means there may not be any noticeable symptoms. Without any symptoms, you may not know you are sick.
When colorectal cancer is caught early, the five-year survival rate is very high. The American Cancer Society recommends that most people start screening for colorectal cancer at age 45 and continue screening until age 75.
Two common screening options* for colorectal cancer are:
- Fecal immunochemical test (or “FIT”)
Colonoscopy is the gold standard for colorectal cancer screening. During a colonoscopy, the doctor will insert a scope with a small camera to see inside your colon. You are sedated during the procedure, so you will not feel anything. The doctor will look for abnormal growths (called polyps) in the colon. Most polyps are benign, but some may turn into cancer, so removing them is an important part of preventive care. These growths can then be biopsied to see if they are cancerous.
To get the best pictures, your colon needs to be empty. A few days before the colonoscopy, you will have to limit your food intake and take a strong laxative. People may be nervous about getting a colonoscopy or doing this prep work. But there are ways to make the prep work gentler on your system.
Independence Blue Cross Registered Nurse Health Coaches are available to answer your questions or concerns about preparing for a colonoscopy. They can also identify resources that might make it easier for you to get this important screening.
The FIT is an at-home test that finds traces of blood in your stool. Blood in your stool does not always mean you have cancer, but it may be a sign that something is wrong and should be investigated further. The advantage to FIT screening is its convenience. You can do it by yourself, at any time. Plus, there’s no prep work.
Each FIT kit comes with directions and all the supplies you need to collect your sample, plus packaging to mail it for testing.
Talk to Your Doctor
Each colorectal cancer screening option has its own recommended schedule. In general, FIT screening should be done annually, but you may only need a colonoscopy once every ten years.
Screening guidelines may change if you:
- Are a person of color
- Are in a high-risk group
- Have a parent or sibling with colorectal cancer
- Have been previously diagnosed with polyps
Your doctor can recommend the screening option that is best for you. They can also give you all the guidance you need to either schedule a colonoscopy or obtain a FIT kit.
Screening is for Older Adults, Too
There is a myth among older adults that screenings are only for younger people. This is not true. All adults ages 45 to 75 should be screened for colorectal cancer. As you get older, the likelihood of developing polyps in the colon increases, which increases your risk for colorectal cancer.
Regular screenings can help identify colorectal cancer in its earliest stages when it is most treatable. Colonoscopies can find polyps before they potentially turn into cancer. Today’s colorectal screening options are easier and more comfortable than ever. Although it might seem inconvenient or unpleasant, colorectal cancer screening is just as important as flossing your teeth or checking your blood pressure or cholesterol. It is one of the best things you can do to keep yourself healthy.
* Coverage for preventive and diagnostic colorectal cancer screening and follow-up testing is provided in accordance with the terms and conditions of the member’s benefit.
Independence Blue Cross offers Medicare Advantage plans with a Medicare contract. Enrollment in Independence Medicare Advantage plans depends on contract renewal.
Website last updated: 03/14/2023