Colon cancer: Don't be a victim

March 3, 2010

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and here are some things you should know.
Colon cancer is usually found in people age 50 or older, and the risk of getting it increases with age.

If you are covered by private health insurance or Medicare, you can get colon screening tests to help find pre-cancerous polyps (growths in the colon) so they can be removed before they turn into cancer. Treatment works best when colon cancer is found early.

How often is testing covered by Medicare? Fecal occult blood test: once every 12 months; flexible sigmoidoscopy: once every 48 months; screening colonoscopy: once every 24 months (if you’re at high risk); once every 10 years, but not within 48 months of a screening sigmoidoscopy (if you’re not at high risk); Barium enema: your doctor can decide to use this test instead of a flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy. This test is covered every 24 months if you are at high risk for colorectal cancer and every 48 months if you aren’t at high risk. (Limitations also may apply to those with private health insurance.)

The above limits apply to people with Medicare age 50 and older, except there is no minimum age for having a screening colonoscopy.

What are your costs in the original Medicare plan? You pay nothing for the fecal occult blood test. For all other tests, you pay 20 percent of the Medicare-approved amount after the yearly Part B deductible. If the flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy is done in a hospital outpatient department, you pay 25 percent of the Medicare-approved amount after the yearly Part B deductible.

What factors increase risk for colorectal cancer? Risk for colon cancer increases if: You have had colon cancer before, even if it has been completely removed; you have a close relative, such as a sister or brother, parent, or child, who had colorectal polyps or colon cancer; you have a history of polyps; you have inflammatory bowel disease (like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease).

Those with private health insurance may also be eligible for colon-cancer screening benefits; consult your health-care plan for benefits and limitations.

Risk for colon cancer increases with age. It is important to continue with screening, even if you were screened before you entered Medicare.

To learn more, read the column on colon cancer by the UTU’s medical consultant, Dr. Norman K. Brown, by clicking on this link: