Colorectal Cancer Screenings: The discussion we need to have with loved ones


Katherine Dallow, MD, vice president of clinical affairs and quality, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island

Preventive health, and in particular the importance of colorectal cancer screenings, is not a typical topic for a family gathering. However, finding a way to work this into casual conversation can save the life of someone you love.

Most colorectal cancer - the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the U.S. - is preventable and detectable, and it is often treatable, particularly when noticed at an early stage. Thus, regular screenings are critical to catching any issues early. This is especially important when you consider that it is expected that 480 Rhode Islanders will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2017. Moreover, 170 Rhode Islanders are expected to lose their life to this cancer in 2017.

In fact, regular screening means that colorectal cancer can be detected early, at a stage when treatment is most likely to be successful, and in some cases, it can be prevented through the detection and removal of precancerous polyps. Despite the obvious benefits to regular screenings, roughly 1 in 3 adults between 50 and 75 years old are not getting the recommended screenings.

The how-tos of getting screened
When you talk to a loved one about colorectal cancer screenings, it’s important that you are familiar with the details.
• The American Cancer Society recommends that, for most adults, screenings start at age 50. However, if you have a close relative or family member who has had colorectal cancer, you may be at a higher risk and should talk with your doctor about whether earlier screenings are right for you.
• The frequency of your testing will depend on the test that was done and your risk, but testing intervals can be up to ten years if a colonoscopy is performed. Screenings can detect abnormal growths in the colon that could develop into cancer.
• Colon polyps and early colon cancers often have no symptoms. This is why routine screening in men and women ages 50 and older is so important.
• Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island members, as with members of many insurance plans, who receive routine, preventive colorectal cancer screenings, generally pay no cost share, including polyp removal and facility fees.

Screening: Not as bad as it used to be
At Blue Cross, we want you to know that there are various options for colorectal screening. Although having a colonoscopy is the gold standard and is typically needed only once every 10 years, there are less-invasive, well-researched screening options available, including several simple take-home tests. Please talk to your doctor today about getting screened. Which screening test you choose depends on your risk, your preference, and your provider. It's also worth noting the preparation for colonoscopy is now far easier than what many may remember. The best test, ultimately, is the one that gets done.

Spread the word
Ninety percent of new colorectal cancer cases occur in people 50 or older. Do you have loved ones who might be at risk? It’s time to talk to them. Make a list of the members of your family who are over the age of 50 and remind them that getting screened for colorectal cancer is easy and affordable. A candid conversation about family risks and the importance of screenings could save you or a loved one’s life.

To help raise awareness about the importance of colorectal cancer screening, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island (BCBSRI) has become the first health insurer in Rhode Island to sign onto a nationwide initiative led by the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable (NCCRT) to substantially reduce colorectal cancer as a major public health problem. The initiative is working toward the goal of 80% of adults aged 50 and older being regularly screened for colorectal cancer by 2018.

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