Every year, about 140,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer and more than 50,000 people die from it every year. Because more than 90% of these cancers occur in people age 50 and older, it is highly recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that you get screened regularly once you hit age 50.
That means if you’re 50 or older, you need to get to the doctor.
Nobody likes to have their nether regions poked and prodded, but screening tests help prevent colorectal cancer by finding and removing precancerous polyps. These abnormal growths, if left alone, can develop into cancer. Screenings can also find the cancer early, when it’s easier to treat.
What types of tests are used for screenings? There are several, which you can discuss with your doctor:
- Colonoscopy (every 10 years).
- Guaiac fecal occult blood test (gFOBT) or fecal immunochemical test (FIT) (every year).
- Sigmoidoscopy (every 10 years, with FOBT or FIT every three years).
- Sigmoidoscopy alone (every five years).
- Stool DNA test (FIT-DNA) every one or three years.
- CT colonography (or virtual colonoscopy) every five years.
For more information on these tests to benefit your backside, check out the CDC’s page on colorectal cancer screening tests.
If you’re eligible for Medicare, you should know that Medicare Part B covers several types of colorectal cancer screening tests. One or more of these tests may be covered. Even though they’re covered, copays or coinsurance may be required for some tests.
- Screening barium enema: When this test is used instead of a flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy, Medicare covers it once every 48 months if you're 50 or older and once every 24 months if you're at high risk for colorectal cancer.
- Screening colonoscopy: Medicare covers this test once every 24 months if you're at high risk for colorectal cancer. If you aren't at high risk for colorectal cancer, Medicare covers this test once every 120 months, or 48 months after a previous flexible sigmoidoscopy.
- Screening fecal occult blood test: Medicare covers this lab test once every 12 months if you're 50 or older.
- Multi-target stool DNA test: Medicare covers this at-home test once every three years for people who meet all of these conditions:
- They’re between 50–85.
- They show no signs or symptoms of colorectal disease including, but not limited to, lower gastrointestinal pain, blood in stool, positive guaiac fecal occult blood test or fecal immunochemical test.
- They’re at average risk for developing colorectal cancer, meaning:
- They have no personal history of adenomatous polyps, colorectal cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis.
- They have no family history of colorectal cancers or adenomatous polyps, familial adenomatous polyposis, or hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer.
- Screening flexible sigmoidoscopy: Medicare covers this test once every 48 months for most people 50 or older. If you aren't at high risk, Medicare covers this test 120 months after a previous screening colonoscopy.
If you don’t have Medicare yet, be sure to check your health plan’s benefits to determine what tests are and are not covered.
When you visit your doctor to discuss your colorectal screening options, remember to ask questions. Your doctor may, for example, recommend screenings more frequently than Medicare covers or may suggest services that Medicare doesn’t cover. If this happens, you may have to pay some or all of the costs. Asking questions will help you understand why your doctor is recommending certain services and whether Medicare will pay for them or not. It is your responsibility to take charge of your own health care, so don’t be shy. Get the information you need.
Don't put off that trip to the doctor!