Are you caring for your colon?

Are you caring for your colon?

Are you caring for your colon?

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It’s not a topic most of us like to think about, but getting a colorectal cancer screening is an important part of staying healthy.

As the third leading cause of cancer death in the United States, early detection is crucial. That’s particularly true for African-Americans for whom the incidence of colorectal cancer and death rates from the disease are higher than other ethnic or racial groups in the country.

But first things first:

What does the colon do?

The colon, also called the large intestine, removes water and nutrients from digested food. It’s part of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, the system that our food flows through as it’s being digested.

Small growths, called polyps, may appear along the colon lining. A colonoscopy can help find these growths and possible cancers early on, when treatment may be more effective, and the chance of recovery is greater.

No Symptoms Necessary

Until it has grown or spread, colon cancer does not often have symptoms. Here are few warning signs:

  • Bloody or black stools/bowel movements
  • Cramping and/or abdominal discomfort
  • Unexplained weight loss

One or more of these signs may cause your doctor to recommend a colorectal cancer  screening.

What to expect

The Importance of Screening

There are simple and noninvasive ways to make it easier for you to complete your screening and give you some peace of mind.  Talk to your health care provider (doctor, nurse practitioner, physician assistant, etc.) about which screening option is right for you.  It may be more than one. Each test has advantages and disadvantages. The test you and your health care provider choose may depend on your preferences, your medical condition, and your benefits.  

Some include:

  1. Non-invasive testing (gFOBT, FIT, FIT-DNA or FIT sDNA) can be done without fasting
  2. Flexible sigmoidoscopy
  3. Colonoscopy

What to expect when preparing for a colonoscopy:

  • You’ll get preparation orders to follow at home before your procedure. This typically includes some type of dietary restriction and the use of a laxative or enema kit.
  • The gastroenterologist will perform a colonoscopy using a colonoscope —a long, flexible, narrow tube with a light and tiny camera on one end to look inside the rectum and the colon.
  • During a colonoscopy, samples of tissues may be taken for testing or removed.

Call a friend

While colonoscopies don’t usually require you to stay overnight, you will have to arrange for a ride home after the procedure. In some cases, driving is not allowed for 24 hours. Your doctor – sometimes a gastroenterologist - will recommend how often you need to be tested based on whether you have certain risk factors for colon cancer or a family history of the disease.

Once a health care provider is found, members should call and verify that the provider is in network for their specific product.  Be sure to have your insurance ID card on hand to help the provider or office staff determine if they are in network.

If you are a Medicare Advantage member, you may be eligible to earn a health reward when you get a colorectal screening. Learn more about health rewards and see if you are eligible.

Important Plan Information


Originally published October 27, 2016; Revised 2019