Health / Tips & tools

Is It Time for Your Colorectal Cancer Screening?

Doctor and patient

It’s safe to say that no one looks forward to getting screened for colorectal cancer. Many people dread the idea so much that they avoid getting tested altogether. But if more people are screened, more lives can be saved.

In the United States, colorectal cancer is second deadliest cancer for men and women combined,1 and it also disproportionately affects the Black community. Black Americans are about 20% more likely to get colorectal cancer and about 40% more likely to die from it than most other groups.2

Why it’s so important to be screened (at no cost)

About one in 23 men and one in 25 women will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in their lifetime.3 Colorectal cancer often begins as a growth called a polyp inside the colon or rectum. Finding and removing polyps can prevent colorectal cancer or find it early, when it’s easier to treat.4 

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has expanded the recommended ages for colorectal cancer screening to 45 to 75 years (previously, it was 50 to 75 years).5 If you’re in that age category, BCBSRI covers recommended colorectal cancer screenings at 100% when you see a provider in your plan’s network. This includes colonoscopies, FDA-approved at-home tests, and the other screening options described below. If you’re between the ages of 76 and 85, please talk to your provider about screening. 

Your choices for screening

A colonoscopy is often the test that people think of first, but a number of colorectal cancer screening options are available, including at-home tests. It’s important to know that if your test result is positive or abnormal on some screening tests (stool tests, flexible sigmoidoscopy, and CT colonography), you’ll also need to have a colonoscopy.6

Talk to your provider about which test is right for you based on your family history and any medical conditions you have. Let your provider know the test you prefer, as they want to make sure you’ll have the screening. Below is a look at your choices. The information about each test (including how often to have it) is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.6

Stool Tests
You receive a test kit to collect the sample at home, which is then returned to a provider or lab.
How often: Once a year or every three years, depending on the test

Flexible sigmoidoscopy
For this test, the provider puts a short, thin, flexible, lighted tube into your rectum. The provider checks for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and lower third of the colon.
How often: Every 5 years

This is similar to flexible sigmoidoscopy, except the provider uses a longer, thin, flexible, lighted tube to check for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and the entire colon. During the test, the provider can find and remove most polyps and some cancers. Colonoscopy also is used as a follow-up test if anything unusual is found during one of the other screening tests.
How often: Every 10 years (for people who do not have an increased risk of colorectal cancer)

CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy)
Computed tomography (CT) colonography, also called a virtual colonoscopy, uses X-rays and computers to produce images of the entire colon, which are displayed on a computer screen for the doctor to analyze.
How often: Every 5 years

For some of the screenings, you’ll need to follow your provider’s instructions for bowel prep, which cleans out your colon. That may include prescription medications. Some bowel prep prescriptions are covered at no cost right at the pharmacy.

For members of all plans except Medicare
If you have a BCBSRI plan other than Medicare and you are charged for your bowel prep prescription at the pharmacy counter, you can ask your provider to complete this form so you will be reimbursed for your cost.7

For Medicare Advantage members
If you have a BCBSRI Medicare Advantage plan and your provider recommends over-the-counter bowel prep medications, you can use your Flexible Benefit Card to buy them. 

Questions to ask your provider

These questions can help you talk with your provider about colorectal cancer screening:

  • What screening test(s) do you recommend for me? Why?
  • How do I prepare? Do I need to change my diet or my usual medication before taking the test?
  • What’s involved in the test? Will it be uncomfortable or painful?
  • Is there any risk involved?
  • When and from whom will I get results?

If you’re having a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy, you will want to know:

  • Who will do the exam?
  • Will I need someone with me?

If you'd like help setting up a colorectal cancer screening, please contact BCBSRI Customer Service. For more information about screenings, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)