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Many of us may not even think much about our colon or know what it does. But, it is an important part of our digestive tract and plays a big role in our well-being. With March being Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, it may be a good time to schedule a preventive screening. As the third leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., early detection is important. It used to be a disease that people over 50 got, but, an American Cancer Society study showed the disease becoming more common in younger people.1
How does the colon work?The colon, also called the large intestine, removes water and nutrients from digested food. It’s part of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, the organs that our food flows through as it’s being digested.
Small growths, called polyps, may appear along the colon lining. A colonoscopy can help find these growths and possible cancers early on, when treatment is more useful, and the chance of recovery is higher.
Warning SignsUntil it has grown or spread, colon cancer does not often have symptoms. But, there may be some warning signs:
One or more of these signs may cause your doctor to suggest a colon screening.
Why it is important to get screened?
What to expect
Early detection by screening is key. Catching it early gives you a better chance at successful treatment. While recommendations are for all people 50 to 75 years old to get screened, research finds that rates of colorectal cancer have been growing in people younger than 55 since at least the mid-1990s. 2
If you have a family history of the disease or have other health issues that could lead to colorectal cancer, your doctor may want you to get screened earlier. Talk to your doctor about what screening choices are best for you and whether more frequent testing is needed.
There are simple and noninvasive ways to make it easier for you to complete your screening and give you some peace of mind. Talk to your health care provider (doctor, nurse practitioner, physician assistant, etc.) about which screening choice is right for you. It may be more than one. Each test has advantages and disadvantages. The test you and your health care provider choose may depend on your preferences, your medical condition, and your benefits. Tests include:
Prepping for your colonoscopy: It isn’t hard and involves just a little bit of discomfort.
Is a stay overnight required?You won’t have to stay overnight after your procedure, but you will need to have someone drive you home. In some cases, driving is not allowed for 24 hours. Your doctor will decide how often you need to be tested based on whether you have certain risk factors for colon cancer or a family history of the disease.
Once a health care provider is found, members should call and verify that the provider is in network for their specific procedure. Be sure to have your insurance ID card on hand to help the provider or office staff decide if they are in network.
Is colon cancer preventable? Only five to 10 percent of colon cancers are a direct result of heredity. Most colon cancers happen independently.3 So, while there is no sure way of preventing colon cancer, you can adopt preventive measures that might lower your risk. These healthy lifestyle tips may help to protect your colon:
Learn more about this and other recommended health screenings in our Adult Wellness Guidelines. For details about your benefit coverage, log in to your Blue Access for MembersSM.
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