Are you caring for your colon?

When it comes to cancer, screening can save lives. Nowhere is this more true than with colon cancer, where an early diagnosis can lead to more effective treatment and better outcomes. Not only is colon cancer the third leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., but the disease  strikes some parts of the population more than others, such as African-Americans for whom death rates from the disease are higher than other ethnic or racial groups in the country.

What does the colon do?

The colon is part of the gastrointestingal (GI) tract, and it’s job is to remove water and nutrients from digested food. In some people, small growths, called polyps, appear along the colon lining. During a colonoscopy, your doctor may collect tissue samples and abnormal growths can be removed.  

A disease with no warning signs

Until it has grown or spread, colon cancer does not always have symptoms. Here are few warning signs:

  • Change in bowel habits that lasts more than a few days
  • Chronic cramping and/or stomach pain
  • Unexplained weight loss

One or more of these signs may cause your doctor to recommend a colon screening.

What to expect

The Importance of Screening

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 option 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. 

Some include:

  1. Non-invasive testing (gFOBT, FIT, FIT-DNA or FIT sDNA) can be done without fasting
  2. Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years
  3. Colonoscopy every 10 years
    • What to expect:
      Preparing for a colonoscopy is not difficult and involves just a little bit of discomfort.
      • You’ll get preparation orders to follow at home before your procedure. This typically includes some type of dietary restriction and the use of a laxative or enema kit.
      • The gastroenterologist will perform a colonoscopy using a colonoscope —a long, flexible, narrow tube with a light and tiny camera on one end to look inside the rectum and the colon.
      • During a colonoscopy, samples of tissues may be taken for testing or removed.

While colonoscopies don’t usually require you to stay overnight, you will have to arrange for a ride home after the procedure. 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. Talk with your doctor about any symptoms and what method of screening is most appropriate.

Once a health care provider is found, members should call and verify that the provider is in network for their specific product.  Be sure to have your insurance ID card on hand to help the provider or office staff determine if they are in network.

If you are a Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana Medicare Advantage member, you may be eligible to earn a health reward when you get a colonoscopy. Learn more and see if you are eligible.

Most recent update: 2/21/2018

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