| Thu, Mar 05, 2015 @ 09:00 AM

Colon Cancer Screening Tests Without the Ouch

Posted by Medicare Made Clear

colon cancerColorectal cancer is cancer of the colon or rectum. Of cancers affecting both men and women, colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the United States1. It doesn’t have to be.

Screenings may help find polyps or other abnormalities before they turn into cancer. Screenings may also help find cancer is in its early stage. As unpleasant as the tests may be, it’s important to follow screening guidelines even if you aren’t considered to be at high risk for getting colorectal cancer.

Medicare Part B covers several types of colorectal cancer screening tests for people ages 50 and older at no additional cost.

Colonoscopy is considered the gold standard of colorectal cancer screening. Many people know well the experience of getting a colonoscopy. It requires cleaning the colon beforehand with laxatives. A small camera is inserted into the rectum so the doctor can see the inside the colon and look for abnormalities. Colonoscopy is usually covered once every 10 years (120 months) for people at average risk or once every 2 years (24 months) for people at high risk.

There are also some non-invasive colon cancer screening tests. For these tests you usually need to collect stool samples to be sent to your doctor or a designated lab.

Medicare covers the non-invasive fecal occult blood test every year at no additional cost. In addition, a brand new test called a multi-target stool DNA test may be available to certain people. Medicare covers this test once every 3 years if you meet all of these conditions:

  • You are age 50-85.
  • You show no signs or symptoms of colorectal disease.
  • You’re at average risk for developing colorectal cancer.

There are advantages and disadvantages to non-invasive, stool collection tests2.


  • No cleansing of the colon is necessary.
  • Samples can be collected at home.
  • There is no risk of damage to the lining of the colon.
  • No sedation is needed.


  • The test does not detect some polyps and cancers.
  • False-positive test results (the test suggests an abnormality when none is present) are possible.
  • Dietary restrictions may be needed before the test.
  • Additional procedures, such as a colonoscopy, may be needed if the test result shows blood in the stool.

Talk with your doctor about when to begin screening for colorectal cancer, what test might be right for you and how often you should be screened.

For more information, explore MedicareMadeClear.com or contact the Medicare helpline 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), TTY 1-877-486-2048.


Fecal Occult Blood Test: An explanation of what to expect from three types of fecal occult blood tests — MayoClinic.org

Colorectal Cancer Screenings, How Often is it Covered?: Medicare.gov

One Preventive Screening Test You Don’t Want to Miss: MedicareMadeClear.com

1 Colorectal (Colon) Cancer: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC.gov), January 5, 2015

2 Tests to Detect Colorectal Cancer and Polyps, National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health, November 12, 2014


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