March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Here at Seniors Speak Out it’s important to be aware of diseases like colorectal cancer that affect older Americans. Because colorectal cancer, also known as colon cancer, is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths – and a cancer that can be screened for often – it is so important that we visit the doctor regularly for screenings.
The first step to preventing colorectal cancer is to learn what it is and how it impacts your body. Colon cancer is a malignant growth that begins in the colon or large intestine. It includes both cancers of the colon and those that form in the rectum. Most colon cancers begin with the formation of benign polyps, or non-cancerous growths in the large intestine. Often, these growths produce absolutely no symptoms, which is why it is important to visit your doctor annually for testing.
The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends adults begin regular screening for colorectal cancer beginning at age 50, though those with a family history of this cancer should begin sooner.
Colonoscopies used to be a dreaded rite of passage for seniors. But there is good news! There are now various options to test for the disease.
Stool tests can be conducted annually, while a colonoscopy is recommended by USPSTF to be done every 10 years in the absence of polyps. According to Medicare.gov, Medicare covers colorectal cancer screening tests to help find pre-cancerous polyps. However, if a polyp or other tissue is found during the colonoscopy, you may have to pay 20 percent of the Medicare-approved amount for the doctor’s services and a copayment in a hospital outpatient setting.
Of course, it is important to discuss your testing options with a physician, who can provide you with more detailed information about each screening test, how often they should occur and what is best for you. Be sure to ask questions about how often Medicare covers each screening test so you know your potential out-of-pocket costs up front.
Again, because the symptoms of colon cancer are often unnoticed, us seniors must take charge of our own health and visit the doctor annually for a regular screening. Contact your doctor today to schedule a test for colorectal cancer in honor of National Colorectal Awareness Month.