There are more than 1 million survivors of colorectal cancer in the U.S. That’s likely because colorectal cancer is a highly curable cancer, when found early enough. Screening for colorectal cancer can actually find polyps before they become cancerous, or in an early stage when they are easier to treat. Don’t let your discomfort with screening stop you from taking advantage of its lifesaving benefits. Locally, the Cancer Services Program of the Finger Lakes Region can connect you with resources that are close to work or home, including free colorectal cancer screenings.
There is more than one way to screen for colorectal cancer. The two most common types of screening tests are the colonoscopy and the stool blood test. The colonoscopy is a procedure performed by a doctor, while the stool blood test requires no doctor’s appointment and is performed by you, in your home. If you’ve put off screening because you think a test you’ve heard about isn’t right for you, talk with a healthcare provider about your options. Your doctor can help you decide which test you should take. Ultimately, the best test is the one that gets done. In many cases, insurance will cover the cost of colorectal screening tests—but if you don’t have insurance or have difficulty paying for your screening, the Cancer Services Program of the Finger Lakes Region may be able to help.
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. This is an unfortunate fact, because it is often preventable. Getting screened could actually prevent colorectal cancer, which is even better than treating it early. Colorectal cancer almost always starts with a polyp—a small growth on the lining of the colon or rectum—but doesn’t usually cause symptoms until it becomes more advanced. It takes a polyp many years to develop into cancer, so regularly looking for polyps and removing them when they’re found may stop cancer before it starts. If found at a late stage, colon cancer is often fatal. So, screening may prevent these deaths. And, when colorectal cancer is detected around stage 1, the five-year survival rate is greater than 90%.
Screening for colorectal cancer is recommended for both men and women beginning at age 50. Additionally, the US Multi-society Task Force on Colorectal Cancer recommends African Americans start screening at age 45. If you have a family history or other risk factors, you might need to start earlier.
The frequency of screening depends on the test used and your previous results. If you screen with the stool blood test, you should do so every year—and if the results are positive, a colonoscopy will be needed. Colonoscopies are generally done every 5-10 years depending on prior results. It’s not unusual, though, for a healthcare provider to recommend less time between colonoscopies if you’ve had polyps removed in the past or have other risk factors.
Talk to your healthcare provider about your screening options and which test is right for you. Your healthcare provider will give you a referral for your screening. If you do not have a healthcare provider, or have difficulty paying for your screening, contact the Cancer Services Program of the Finger Lakes Region at 585-224-3070. Outside of Monroe County? Call 1-877-803-8070.
In many cases, insurance will cover the cost of colorectal screening tests—but if you don’t have insurance or have difficulty paying for your screening, the Cancer Services Program of the Finger Lakes Region may be able to help.
If your insurance company charges you for a screening colonoscopy, you can appeal it. Remind them that under the Affordable Care Act, screening colonoscopies should be covered in full, whether a polyp is found or not. You can find more information on how to appeal these charges here.
Knowing your family and personal health history helps healthcare providers better understand your potential risk for colorectal cancer. It is important to know about all the cancers in your family, even in your extended family. By completing this questionnaire prior to your visit, you will be able to help them determine the best screening schedule for you. Simply download, print, complete, and bring it with you to your appointment.