Dreading a colonoscopy? Now, you have options.
Though colorectal cancer cases have been steadily decreasing for the past two decades, it remains the third most common cancer in both men and women—with 90% of cases in people age 50 or older.
Colonoscopy is the gold standard when it comes to detecting and preventing colorectal cancer, especially for those with a family history of colon cancer or a history of inflammatory bowel disease. But while it’s the best preventive method, many seniors hesitate having a colonoscopy or even a flexible sigmoidoscopy—often fearing the test preparations or the invasiveness of the procedures.
The good news is that there are 3 non-invasive, colon cancer screening tests that may be done in the comfort of your home by collecting stool and sending it to a lab.
● Fecal occult blood test (FOBT): This test looks for blood in the stool. It can have many false-positives and is not very reliable at catching polyps before they become cancerous.
● Fecal immunochemical test (FIT): This test detects polyps and cancer better than the FOBT and is easier to complete.
● Stool DNA test: In 2015, the FDA approved Cologuard, which can detect blood in the stool as well as different DNA mutations that are associated with colon cancer. This test can identify the majority of colon cancers; however, it too may only pick up a polyp once it is larger or in a more advanced stage.
All of these alternatives are fully covered by Medicare. The FOBT and FIT tests are recommended annually, while Cologuard is recommended every 3 years. With any of these alternative methods, if the test is positive, a colonoscopy will be needed to investigate further. Although a colonoscopy is the best way to prevent and detect colon polyps and cancers, getting screened is what matters most when under the age of 75. Screening beyond age 75 is a more complex assessment of risks and benefits, and should be discussed with your doctor.
At Calyx Health, we are dedicated to comprehensive senior care, especially prevention, disease management, and wellness. If you are interested in discussing these options as part of your free 60-minute Medicare Annual Wellness Visit, please come visit us.