The Doctor’s Note: Reduce your chance of developing colon cancer

Cancer of the colon is a common cancer in both men and women. It is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Approximately one in three people who are diagnosed with this type of cancer will die of their disease.

There are things you can do to reduce your chance of developing colon cancer:

  • Eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grain foods
  • Do not smoke
  • Drink alcohol only in moderation or not at all
  • Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight
  • If you notice blood in your stool or have a persistent change in your bowel habits, discuss this with your physician

Age and family history are the most important risk factors for colon cancer. Know your family history related to cancer, and discuss this with your physician when you have a prevention-related visit and/or examination. For most people without increased risk, colon cancer screening should begin at age 50.

Colon cancer is generally preventable with recommended screening. Most cases of colon cancer begin as small, noncancerous polyps. These can be removed to reduce the risk of becoming a cancer.

The gold standard for colon cancer prevention is a colonoscopy examination. This is in part due to the fact that screening can be performed less frequently, and often the diagnostic treatment for polyps or other findings can be completed during the screening examination. Preparation for a colonoscopy examination requires more effort than some other screening tests, but most people tolerate the preparation well.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas (BCBSKS) is committed to working collaboratively with our providers to improve preventive screening, including colon cancer screening. One way we are doing this is to provide incentives to providers for completing a recommended colon cancer screening test for our members.

BCBSKS follows the recommendations of the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA), as defined in the Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set (HEDIS) of quality measures. BCBSKS provides incentives to our contracting providers for achieving high scores on some HEDIS quality measures. Colon cancer screening was added to the list of measures eligible for an incentive in 2019.

We see this as a win-win situation where providers are incentivized for providing high quality care and members are receiving care consistent with national guidelines. Preventing serious health problems improves health outcomes and saves money in the long-term, helping to keep insurance premiums more affordable.

Do your part to stay healthy by talking with your physician about the preventive tests that are appropriate for you.

Michael Atwood, M.D., CHIE, is the vice president of medical affairs and chief medical officer at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas. He is a board certified family physician and an American Academy of Family Physicians fellow.

Note: Since the date of this publication, Dr. Atwood has retired from BCBSKS.

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