Colorectal Cancer Detection and Prevention - What You Need To Know

What does a colonoscopy have to do with happy birthdays? Here’s your answer.

The American Cancer Society's estimates that in 2022 there will be 106,180 new cases of colon cancer and 44,850 new cases of rectal cancer in the United States. These are unfortunate statistics since most of those cancers could be prevented with screening.

Excluding skin cancers, colon cancer is the 3rd most commonly diagnosed cancer in men and in women. The lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about 1 in 23 (4.3%) for men and 1 in 25 (4.0%) for women. Many people are aware of the lethal effect breast or prostate cancer may have, but do not realize that more people will die from colon cancer this year than will die from breast or prostate cancer. Although family history of colon cancer and high grade polyps can increase your risk, 2 out of every 3 people that are diagnosed with colon cancer have no family history of colon cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends colon screening for everyone, beginning at age 45 and, if you are at increased risk, you would start sooner. Following this guideline can save your life.

Capital Health Plan is very interested in its members being as healthy as possible. It is essential that members are informed about colon cancer and it is critical that we shed light on why screenings — which many people avoid — are so important.

While you may already be aware of the importance of colon cancer screenings, you may be among the large number of Americans who avoid screenings anyway. Some of the top reasons people avoid getting tested include: hearing through friends or family that the test was difficult or painful, concern about the cost of the test, fear of embarrassment, or the thought that they don’t have to get tested because they have no family history of colon cancer. These concerns are common, but are largely unfounded.

A colonoscopy remains the gold standard for colon screening because it is the only test that examines the entire colon, involves detection as well as intervention, and has the longest interval between tests if the exam is normal. The thought of a colonoscopy may be a little uncomfortable to consider, but the actual procedure is very tolerable, and the life-saving benefits make it worth your consideration. Having “pre-cancerous” polyps painlessly removed, can prevent a cancer from occurring. Those concerned about embarrassment should be assured that a colonoscopy is done with the patient covered up as much as possible and with upmost professionalism to respect our patients’ dignity. It’s purely scientific; that is all.

The easiest screening method is a simple, single sample, stool test and that is done at absolutely no cost. There are other screening methods, some with no cost and some with a copay. A call to Member Services (850-383-3311) will answer any of your questions regarding the expense to you.

Colon cancer can be a silent killer. According to the American Cancer Society, once you begin to feel the symptoms of colorectal cancer, it’s often very advanced and more difficult to effectively treat. However, if colorectal cancer is detected early, the survival rate is actually 90%. This is why it’s so critical to take care of yourself and do the screenings.

Call your primary care physician or health care provider to discuss the many screening options that are available. Surely there is one that will meet your individual needs. I encourage you to take time to participate in colon cancer screening and to share with friends and family the importance of colon cancer screening, and, most importantly, get yourself screened. It could be the most important thing you do for yourself and, your family. Screening for colon cancer is all about you having more happy birthdays.

Tara Loucks, APRN, is the Clinical Director of Capital Health Plan’s Colon Screening Program.