Colon Cancer Screening
Frequently Asked Questions
  1. What is the colon?
  2. What are polyps?
  3. What is the rectum?
  4. What is genetic testing?
  5. What is genetic counseling?
  6. Is colon cancer screening covered by insurance?
  7. Where should I go for screening?
  8. What can I do to decrease my risk?
  9. Why does the survey ask which relatives have had cancer and which have had polyps?
  10. Isn't this a man's disease?
  11. How common is colon cancer?
  12. How can I tell if I have colon cancer? What is the best test to see if I do have colon cancer?
  13. How much does colon cancer screening cost?
  14. Who is at risk for getting colon cancer?
  15. Can colon cancer be cured?
  16. It is possible to have colon cancer without having polyps?
  17. How common is it to have polyps?
  18. Where can I go to read more?
What is the colon?

The colon is the large intestine. It is the last part of the digestive tract. The colon's purpose is to absorb liquids and salts (electrolytes). Generally after a person eats it takes 2-3 days for the food to go through the entire large intestine.

What are polyps?

Polyps are growths that occur in the lining of your colon. There are two main types. The first type are precancerous, and doctors call these "adenomatous polyps" because 10% may grow to become cancers, especially large adenomatous polyps. The second type doctors call hyperplastic, and these are benign, meaning they do not grow to become colon cancer.

What is the rectum?

The rectum is the last 10-15 centimeters of the large intestine or colon. Its purpose is to store fecal matter for awhile so that a person does not have to run to the bathroom for a bowel movement each time stool comes down the colon. The rectum has muscles that close while holding stool in, and that open when a person has a bowel movement to let stool out.

What is genetic testing?

Genetic testing involves taking a sample of tissue or body fluid and then looking into the sample cells for DNA. DNA is made up of genes, which store information about a person's heredity. In a laboratory, methods are used to find out if specific genes are different than expected, or abnormal. Genes, including those with abnormal differences, are passed from generation to generation. Since all cancers result from abnormal changes in genes, by looking at specific genes which are known to be linked to certain diseases, it is possible to find out if a person has a hereditary condition that increases the risk of colon cancer.

What is genetic counseling?

Before you get genetic testing, you may want to meet with a specially-trained health professional who can help you find and understand information so you can make a truly informed decision about whether or not to get genetic testing. Before testing, the counselor is there to help you prepare emotionally and psychologically in case the test results show that you have inherited a higher risk for colon cancer. If test results are positive, and do confirm a higher risk, the counselor helps you and your family adjust and find the prevention and screening resources needed in your individual case.

Is colon cancer screening covered by insurance?

Medicare and Illinois Medicaid cover all methods of colon cancer screening. Coverage through Medicaid in other states may differ. Many insurance companies and health benefit plans cover some method of colon cancer screening. For specifics, please check with your insurance company or health benefit plan to find out how colon cancer screening is covered.

If you are an HMO member, you will need to get a referral from your primary care physicians to see a specialist and for testing.

If you are a PPO member and you need a colonoscopy, the gastroenterology specialist's office should call your insurance company to get prior authorization. PPO members get higher benefits for using network providers. Call your insurance company to make sure the doctor you choose is in your network.

Where should I go for screening?

Check with your primary care physician or click here to request an appointment with a gastroenterolgy specialist at Rush University Medical Center.

What can I do to decrease my risk?

Beginning screening at the appropriate age is the single most important thing you can do to protect yourself against colon cancer. Understanding your risk is key to knowing when to begin screening. Taking this screening survey is a great way to start. In addition, it is important to know as much as possible about your family's health history.

Stay active! Studies show that colon cancer risks are reduced by half with moderate levels of physical activity. Even small amounts of physical activity can cut your colon cancer risk. Activities such as climbing stairs, and brisk walking are encouraged. 3 hours of physical activity a week is recommended. Check with your physician before beginning a new exercise program.

Eat less meat! Studies show that eating less than one serving of meat (beef, lamb, pork) a week is half the risk of eating more than five servings.

Stop smoking!

Why does the survey ask which relatives have had cancer and which have had polyps?

Current recommendations for colon cancer screening vary based on whether you or one or more family members have had colon cancer or polyps.

Isn't this a man's disease?

In 2005 just as many women are expected to be diagnosed with colon cancer as men. Colon cancer occurs at the same rate in women as in men. Women who have had cancer of the uterus, or endometrial cancer are at increased risk.

How common is colon cancer?

Colon (colorectal) cancer is generally considered the second or third most common cancer killer. Each year there are about 150,000 new cases and 58,000 deaths from colon cancer.

How can I tell if I have colon cancer? What is the best test to see if I do have colon cancer?

Most colon cancers occur in individuals who have no signs of it. Without a test, it is impossible to tell if you have colon cancer. This is why everyone over the age of 50 should be tested. The best test for you depends on your risk factors. To see test descriptions, click here.

How much does colon cancer screening cost?

The cost varies depending on the test you choose. If you are paying out-of-pocket, the gastroenterology specialist's (Gastroenterologist) office will give you cost information when you schedule an appointment. If you are an HMO member, you will need a referral from your primary care physician. Check with your insurance company or health benefit plan to see that the colon cancer screening is covered and what co-insurance, co-payments or deductibles apply. If you are a PPO member, you may need to get the screening pre-authorized.

Who is at risk for getting colon cancer?

Everyone is at risk for colon cancer, however, some groups are at higher risk, including:

  • Any man or woman over the age of 50
  • Anyone with a family history of colon cancer
  • Anyone who has had precancerous (adenomatous) polyps at any age
  • Any woman who has had cancer of the uterus (endometrial cancer) before age 45.

Can colon cancer be cured?

Yes, this cancer is curable with early detection. It is estimated that over 90% of colon cancer deaths could be avoided with early screening.

It is possible to have colon cancer without having polyps?

Yes it is possible, however the majority of colon cancers start out as polyps.

How common is it to have polyps?

About one third of individuals over 50 have polyps in their colon.

Where can I go to read more?



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