One of the most common types of cancer is colorectal cancer. It is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. It’s preventable, treatable and beatable, so it’s critical to understand the signs and symptoms of this disease and to get your screenings! Mohawk health plan members schedule your no-cost screening today if you haven’t already.
About Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer is a cancer of the large intestine that includes the colon and the rectum. Most cases begin as small clumps of noncancerous cells called polyps. Over time, some polyps may become colon cancers.
Colorectal cancer can affect men and women of all racial and ethnic groups, though the risk rises after age 50. Here are some factors that may increase your risk of colorectal cancer.
- Personal history of colorectal polyps
- Family history of colon cancer
- Lack of regular physical activity
- Low-fiber, high-fat diet
- Alcohol or tobacco use
- Inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
Colorectal polyps and cancer don’t always cause symptoms, especially at first. You could have polyps or colorectal cancer and not know it. That is why getting screened regularly is so important. If you do have symptoms, they may include:
- Blood in or on your stool (bowel movement)
- Pains, aches or cramps in your stomach that don’t go away
- Unexplained weight loss
- Change in bowel habits such as diarrhea or constipation
Screenings can find precancerous polyps (abnormal growths) so that they can be removed before turning into cancer. It can also help find colorectal cancer at an early stage, when treatment may lead to a cure.
Types of Tests
There are several ways to screen for colon cancer. Talk with your doctor about which test is right for you.
- Stool test - Checks for blood in your stool
- Sigmoidoscopy - A small flexible scope is used to view only the lower part of your colon. Sigmoidoscopy and a stool test are sometimes used together.
- Colonoscopy - It’s similar to a sigmoidoscopy, but your doctor can see your entire colon. It is the most thorough test. Your doctor can also take tissue samples (biopsies) for analysis and remove polyps during the procedure. You will need to cleanse your bowel both the day before and the day of your colonoscopy. Medicine will be given during your colonoscopy to make you sleepy and relaxed.
- CT Colonography (Virtual Colonoscopy) - Uses X-rays and computers to produce images of the entire colon
Start talking with your doctor about screening at age 45, or sooner if you have an increased risk for colon cancer. Your doctor can recommend when to start and how often you should be tested.
Remember, Mohawk health plan members have access to no-cost screenings by staying within the allowable maximum for colonoscopies. Check the cost by calling the Referral Coordinator at 855-566-4295, going to myCigna.com or ask your provider.
Primary Treatment Options
The type of treatment your doctor recommends will depend largely on the stage of your cancer.
Important Ways to Lower Your Risk
To view or print a downloadable version of this article or to view references, click here.