March is here, and this month isn’t just about the start of spring—it’s Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. If you’re young, you might not think that’s particularly relevant to you, but colon health is important for people of all ages.
For most adults, screenings for colorectal cancer start around age 45 to 50, but you’ll want to be sure to talk with your provider about any family history or other risk factors that could make earlier screenings important.
There are a handful of tests your provider may include as a part of your screening schedule:
- Colonoscopy: Every ten years starting at age 45 to 50
- FOBT (fecal occult blood test) or FIT (fecal immunochemical test) annually
- sDNA (stool DNA test) every 1 to 3 years
Let’s myth-bust colonoscopies
Some people think only elderly people or people who don’t live healthy, active lifestyles need a colonoscopy. That’s not true! Take Will Smith for example (yes, that Will Smith). He’s 51 and healthy, and he just had his first colonoscopy this past fall, which he vlogged about. The results? His doctor found and removed a precancerous polyp.
These types of precancerous occurrences can happen to everyone. That’s not to scare you. In fact, it should encourage you to put your health first and talk with your doctor about when it’s time to start screening.
Another myth: Colonoscopies hurt. While preparing for a colonoscopy does require some cleanout—clear liquids and laxatives—this screening has evolved a lot over the years, and colonoscopies today are not the tests of the past. They’re completed with sedation so that not only are they painless, but they’re over before you know it.
Typically, a colonoscopy can take 30 to 60 minutes. The scope is inserted, and air is often used to inflate the colon for better visibility so abnormal growths can be removed. For the majority of people, the most discomfort you may feel are some gas pains from the air, but walking around can typically help relieve those. Most people are back to their pre-colonoscopy state within 30 minutes and are back to regular activities the next day.
Cologuard vs Colonoscopy: Can you replace your colonoscopy?
Convenience is a huge part of preventative care for a lot of people, so many have turned to Cologuard for their colon screening. It can be tempting to mail a fecal sample to a lab and call it done, but the reality is, this isn’t always the best option.
First, with a colonoscopy, if any precancerous polyps are seen during the test, they’re removed during the procedure. While Cologuard can detect signs of cancer or advanced polyps, they can’t detect those polyps in their earliest stages when they’re easiest to remove.
Secondly, many insurance companies will actually pay in full for a colonoscopy screening as preventative care. If you use Cologuard and do have issues detected, your follow-up colonoscopy is typically considered a diagnostic colonoscopy since symptoms are present.
That’s a lot of insurance language to say this: A colonoscopy post-Cologuard isn’t always covered by insurance the same way it is when it’s done as a preventative screening.
Is it time for you to schedule a colonoscopy?
If you’re in your 40s (or even younger), March is a great time to talk with your doctor about your colorectal cancer risk and find out if it’s time to start preventative screenings. Then, you can find any doctor-recommended procedures on MDsave to compare upfront, inclusive prices!