Know the risk factors
There are two types of risk factors for colon cancer: ones you can control and ones you can’t.
Some risk factors are directly linked to lifestyle. These include being overweight or obese, not being physically active, having a diet high in red and processed meats, smoking, and heavy alcohol use. By making some changes, you can lower your risk of colon cancer.
Other risk factors may be out of your control, but you need to know about them. Those include being older – especially over 50, having a family history of colon cancer or a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, or having type 2 diabetes.
Race and ethnicity are also important factors. African Americans and Jewish people of Eastern European descent (known as Ashkenazi Jews) have the highest risk for colorectal cancer.
A rise in younger adults
There has been a 51% increase in colon cancer for people under 50 since 1994. The number of new cases seems to increase 2% each year in this age group, and death rates are also rising despite increased screenings.
Researchers are unsure about what is driving the trend. But experts agree: It’s important to contact your doctor right away if you experience symptoms like blood in your stool, bleeding from your rectum, or abdominal cramping. By having these important conversations with your doctor at the first sign of concern, you have the best chance of catching an issue earlier, when it can be more easily treated.
Screening options besides a colonoscopy
Colonoscopy used to be the only reliable screening choice. Today there are several colon cancer screening options that don’t include lengthy prep or require sedation and are less invasive. Those include a process called colonography; at-home tests, including Cologuard®*; and flexible sigmoidoscopy. Colon cancer screening is considered preventive care and most preventive screenings for colon cancer are covered by health insurance.** Talk to your doctor to see which method they recommend based on your health history. The most important thing is to get tested. It may save your life.
Some good news
With more screenings and better treatment, the death rate for colon cancer is less than half of what it was in 1970. And there are 1 million colorectal cancer survivors in the U.S. today. Still, it’s the second leading cause of cancer deaths among adults. That’s why it’s so important to get screened and talk to your doctor if you have symptoms. Be sure to ask your doctor about any recommended preventive care, including a colon cancer screening and annual physical. Need a doctor? EmblemHealth members can “Find a doctor” on our website or call Member Services at 800-447-8255 (TTY: 711), available 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday.
*COLOGUARD® is a registered trademark of Exact Sciences in the U.S. and other countries.
** Please see your plan documents for coverage details, exclusions, and limitations.