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Colon cancer screening? But I’m healthy.

Colon cancer screening can save your life. Our internal medicine physician explains when and how to get screened.

By Kristen Kopski, MD
March 8, 2019

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I’ve known a lot of patients who put off their recommended cancer screenings. Especially colon cancer screening. For some, it’s the fear of the preparation and the test itself. For others, they’re healthy and don’t have symptoms. But it’s just as hard to face something as scary as cancer.

You want family members – including your spouse, parents and grandparents – to be as healthy as possible for as long as possible. That’s why I encourage you to tell those you love to get screened.

Here are some common questions I get asked about colon cancer screening.

Why should I get screened for colon cancer?

Colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. when you combine men and women. It’s also a cancer that can be prevented or detected at an early stage. Most colon cancers occur in men and women who are 50 or older. So I recommend colon cancer screening starting at age 50 for everyone (or sooner for those with a family history or other risks).

African American and Native American populations are at a higher risk for colon cancer and should start getting screened at age 45.

What happens in a colon cancer screening?

Screening is how we look for cancer or pre-cancer in people who have no symptoms of the disease. Regular screening can often prevent colon cancer by finding and removing growths (polyps) before they become cancerous. Screening can also find colon cancer early, when it’s most curable.

When found at an early stage, before it’s spread, the five-year relative survival rate is about 90 percent. But less than half of colorectal cancers are found at this early stage.

Should I choose a colonoscopy or stool test?

Most colon cancer screening is done with either a colonoscopy or a stool test, like the FIT test. A doctor will consider all of the options with you and recommend the right test. The at-home stool tests are an attractive option to some people because they’re private and there’s no special diet to prepare. That’s good for patients who let the fear of a more invasive test stop them from getting screened.

Most screenings are covered 100 percent by insurance, even if you haven’t met your deductible. Check with your insurance company to see what they’ll cover.

HealthPartners members: Check your coverage here

My family has no colon cancer history. Why get screened?

Most people who get colon cancer have no family history of the disease. But if you have a grandparent, parent, brother, sister or child who has colon cancer, then you may have a higher chance of getting it. People with a family history should start getting tested before age 50. If anyone in your family has a history of colon cancer or colon polyps, make sure you let your doctor know.

Remember – screening guidelines only relate to people who have no signs or symptoms. If you have symptoms, like blood in your stool, changes in your bowel habits or abdominal pain, these may be signs of colon cancer or other health problems. You should see your doctor right away.

How often should I get a colonoscopy or FIT test?

For colonoscopy, it’s once every 10 years starting at age 50, unless your doctor recommends more often. The FIT test is an annual test starting at age 50.

If you have a positive FIT test, then your doctor will recommend you have a colonoscopy. Don’t wait until you have symptoms to get screened. Many have the disease and don’t even know it. It’s always better to get tested before symptoms show up.

Schedule a colon cancer screening

You owe it to yourself and those you love to follow recommended screening guidelines. Talk to your primary care doctor about screening options that are right for you. Learn more about colon cancer screenings at these locations:

About Kristen Kopski, MD

Dr. Kristen Kopski in an internal medicine physician at Park Nicollet. She also serves as a primary care medical director. She has special interest in improving how health care works for our patients. As part of the SmartCareSM Clinic team, she helps guide patients to services that are convenient, flexible and affordable. Dr. Kopski works with many adults who have complex medical concerns. She was born just outside of Philadelphia and moved to Minnesota in 2003. When not working, she loves to cook, knit, garden, cycle, practice yoga, walk her dog and spend time with her family.

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