The power of prevention

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska (BCBSNE) encourages all members to understand their personal risk factors and when they should be tested for colorectal cancer.

According to the Great Plains Colon Cancer Task Force (GPCCTF), in 2021, Nebraska ranked 29th in the nation in prevalence of colorectal cancer screenings among adults aged 50 and over, which is one of the lowest rates in the country.

The risk of developing colorectal cancer increases with age, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 90% of cases occur in people age 45 or older.

If caught early, colorectal cancer can be curable, but the five-year survival rate falls significantly once the cancer spreads. That’s why on-time screening is essential and lifesaving.

No ifs, ands or butts

Prevention isn’t about luck; colorectal cancer is largely preventable through routine screenings. There are several different types of screening tests that can be used to find polyps (an abnormal group of cells) or colorectal cancer:

Stool tests
The fecal occult blood test (FOBT) is a test that you can do from the comfort of your own home. The test looks for traces of blood in bowel samples analyzed at a pathology laboratory. If blood is found, further testing may be required.

A colonoscopy is the most common type of screening test. During the procedure, your doctor examines your colon by looking for any growths or abnormalities, and if any polyps are identified, your doctor will remove and biopsy them.

Virtual colonoscopy
This test uses X-rays and computers to produce images of the entire colon, which are displayed on a computer screen for the doctor to analyze.

There is no single best test for any person, so it is important to consult with a doctor about which one is right for you.

“Many put routine care and preventive screenings on hold during the pandemic,” said Dr. Debra Esser, chief medical officer at BCBSNE “Delaying these appointments is concerning because many conditions, like colorectal cancer, can become more complicated to treat when they’re discovered late. Colon cancer doesn’t typically have symptoms in the early stages; be sure to ask your doctor about when you should begin testing, based on your age, lifestyle and family history.”

Education and awareness

Throughout the month of March, BCBSNE is supporting the GPCCTF and the Nebraska Cancer Coalition in raising awareness of colon cancer and the importance of early detection and prevention by partnering with each organization and supporting their outreach efforts.

BCBSNE has also partnered with Accountable Care Organizations to participate in the company’s Total Care program, and from July 2020 through June 2021, members seeing a Total Care provider were 26% more likely to be screened for colorectal cancer than those not attributed to Total Care.

Learn more about preventive care from BCBSNE at

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