One benefit of the new health care law: Free colon cancer tests

1 in 3 U.S. adults have never been screened but will now have coverage for this and other preventive services

Published: November 07, 2013 10:30 AM

During a colonoscopy, doctors can detect and remove polyps (shown here in red).

If you've put off getting screened for colon cancer because you didn't have health insurance, there's good news. Under the new health care law, colorectal screening tests are availble at no cost to you. 

About a third of U.S. adults ages 50 to 75 have never been screened for colon cancer or are not up to date with screening recommendations, according to a new survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And more than half of those people had no health insurance.  But through the new health law, more Americans will have access to health coverage and preventive services such as colorectal cancer screening tests.

Our medical consultants recommend regular screenings for colorectal cancer for healthy adults ages 50 to 75 using one of these three options.

  • Colonoscopy every 10 years beginning at age 50. Colonoscopy is highly effective at preventing colorectal cancer because it allows a doctor to detect precancerous growths in the colon and remove them on the spot. See our fixes for common colonoscopy concerns.
  • An annual test for blood in the stool (known as a fecal occult blood test).
  • Sigmoidoscopy every five years beginning at age 50, plus a stool test every three years.

People at increased risk for colorectal cancer due to family history or other reasons often need more frequent screening and to start screening at a younger age. Otherwise, there’s no benefit to getting screened more often than recommended, and it can actually expose you to unnecessary risks. And screening isn’t advised for people older than 75 because the benefits diminish after that age and the risks increase.

For more on cancer tests see our special report "The Cancer Tests You Need—And Those You Don't."

—Doug Podolsky

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