Are You Caring For Your Colon?

Are You Caring For Your Colon?

It’s not a topic most of us like to think about.  A colorectal cancer screening isn't fun, but it is an important part of keeping colon cancer at bay.

As the third leading cause of cancer death in the United States, early detection is vital. Especially for African Americans. They have the greatest risk for colorectal cancer. Their death rates from the disease are higher than other ethnic or racial groups in the nation.

But first things first:

What does the colon do?

The colon removes water and nutrients from digested food. It’s part of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Food flows through the tract as it’s digested.

Small growths, called polyps, often form along the colon lining. Polyps can turn into cancers. A colonoscopy helps find these growths early when treatment may be more effective and the chance for recovery greater.

No Symptoms, no worries, right?

Wrong. Until it grows or spreads, colon cancer often has no symptoms. Here are few warning signs:

  • Bloody or black stools
  • Cramping and abdominal discomfort
  • Unexplained weight loss

Your doctor may recommend a colorectal cancer screening if you have one or more of these symptoms.

Don't skip screening.

Today, there are simple ways to make colon screening easier.  Talk to your health care provider about options. Each has advantages and drawbacks. The test you and your health care provider choose may depend on your choice, medical condition and benefits.  

Screening options include:

  1. Non-invasive testing (gFOBT, FIT, FIT-DNA or FIT sDNA) can be done without fasting
  2. Flexible sigmoidoscopy
  3. Colonoscopy

Many people dread the prep for a colonoscopy more than the screening. Keep in mind, it’s all meant to help you stay healthy! You’ll get prep instructions to follow at home. They usually include fasting before screening. A laxative or enema cleans out your colon so polyps can be seen more easily.

During the screening, a gastroenterologist will use a colonoscope to examine your rectum and colon. The scope is a long, narrow, flexible tube with a light and tiny camera on one end.

Tissue samples may be collected, and suspicious growths may be removed altogether.

Most screening doesn’t require an overnight stay, but you will need someone to drive you home. In some cases, driving is not allowed for 24 hours after the procedure.

Your doctor will let you know how often you should be tested based on your risk factors for or family history of the disease.

Make the most of your health care benefits.

Once you find a colorectal doctor you want to see, call to verify the provider is in-network. Have your insurance ID card handy to help the office staff determine if they are in network.

If you are a Medicare Advantage member, you may be eligible to earn a health reward when you get a colorectal screening. Learn more about health rewards and see if you are eligible.

Sources: Colorectal Cancer Statistics,   Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020; Colorectal Cancer,   American Cancer Society, 2021.
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Originally published October 27, 2016; Revised 2019, 2021

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