Preventing one of America’s deadliest cancers
Colorectal cancer claims 50,000 lives annually in the United States, and nearly 135,000 people are diagnosed with this disease each year.
However, screening early and regularly – whether you’re at higher risk or not – enables physicians to find colon cancer in its earliest stages, when it is most treatable. Even better, the removal of pre-cancerous polyps can prevent cancer from ever developing in the first place.
“For the general population, we advise getting screened by age 50,” said Steven Condron, MD, FACP, MHES, Gastroenterologist with Avera Medical Group Gastroenterology. “Each person is unique, so your physician may recommend a different schedule.”
Based on your medical history, sedation needs and personal sensitivity, you and your doctor will also choose which test is best for you from among these options:
“Because of its sensitivity to detecting abnormal growths and thorough examination of the colon, a colonoscopy is the best screening for colon cancer,” said Condron. “It’s the gold standard.”
For the patient’s comfort, a sedative is given before inserting a long, thin tube into the rectum. During the colonoscopy, the gastroenterologist can remove polyps immediately as well as take biopsies of any suspicious lesions.
If a patient isn’t comfortable with or is unable to undergo colonoscopy for medical reasons, a FIT kit is recommended. This take-home test allows you to collect stool hygienically, and then return it to the clinic for lab testing.
“A patient with negative results can repeat the process every year,” said Condron. “With positive results, this patient will need more in-depth testing with a colonoscopy.”
Also known as a virtual colonoscopy, a CT colonography aims X-rays around the body and captures multiple cross-sectional images of the colon. Software reconstructs the patient’s colon on a screen, allowing the radiologist to “drive” through the colon and look for polyps.
Minimally invasive, the CT colonography doesn’t require a sedative. However, a tube inserted into the rectum gently pumps air to expand the bowels. Like colonscopy, this test requires colon prep the day before the exam. Also, if any polyps or lesions are detected, the patient needs to undergo colonoscopy as well.
The 80/18 Initiative
Regardless of which screening you choose, just get screened!
In 2014, the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable began a nationwide project to get 80 percent of adults 50 years or older screened for colon cancer by 2018.
“To boost the number of screenings in our region, we’ve visited local organizations promoting our Flu/FIT campaign,” said Alicia Sanborn, Director of Avera Gastroenterology. “While offering flu shots to people, we educate them on colon cancer and offer a FIT kit.”
Before setting up a colorectal screening, make sure you understand your insurance coverage.
“Call your insurance directly to verify how screening options are covered,” advised Preston Renshaw, MD, Chief Medical Officer at Avera Health Plans.
Typically, a patient’s initial screening is completely covered by insurance. “When the patient can follow the standard timeline for colorectal screenings, their procedure should be completely covered by their insurance,” said Renshaw.
If abnormalities are present or if biopsies are taken to a pathology lab, coverage may change. Further diagnostic tests are subject to deductible and coinsurance, depending on your insurance plan.
If you are at higher risk for colorectal cancer, and need earlier or more frequent screenings, you should check with your insurance carrier to see how this is covered.
CT colonography may be covered by insurance as a screening option based on medical issues that prevent the other tests. It is important to check with your insurance carrier anytime you have coverage concerns.