Colon cancer screening and early diagnosis

Upstate New Yorkers are risking their lives by not being screened for colon cancer. In upstate New York, tens of thousands of adults are taking unnecessary chances with their health by choosing not to be screened for colon cancer, according to research findings issued earlier this year by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

Among those adults who are not screened, only one in four report that a doctor or health professional has recommended that they be tested for colon cancer. Colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death among adults in the United States.

“Each year in upstate New York, 2,300 people are diagnosed with colon cancer,” says Excellus BCBS Medical Director Nicholas Massa, M.D. “Upstate New York averages 800 deaths a year from the disease.”

Regular screenings can detect early-stage colon cancer before symptoms develop. Early detection is important because treatments are more likely to be successful for early- rather than late-stage cancer.

“A recommendation from a provider is a powerful factor in a patient’s decision to be screened for cancer,” said Massa. “However, increasing colon cancer screening rates is not just a task for providers. There is need for the whole health care system to become involved in promoting the importance of colon cancer screening.”

The most thorough screening test is a colonoscopy, and is proven to prevent the disease. Removing benign or pre-cancerous polyps during a colonoscopy can not only prevent colon cancer, but also reduce the number of deaths from the disease, according to the National Institutes of Health.

A colon cancer screening is recommended every ten years for all adults ages 50 to 75. Individuals who have colon cancer risk factors, including a family history of colon cancer, or previous polyps, may need to have their first screening at a younger age, and/or more frequently.

Excellus BCBS pledged its support for the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable’s “80% by 2018” goal of having 80 percent of adults aged 50 and older screened for colorectal cancer by 2018. Currently, about one-third of upstate New York adults in the 50- to 75-year-old age range have not been screened.

The NCCRT was founded in 1997 by the American Cancer Society and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If achieved, the screening goal of “80% by 2018” would prevent 277,000 cases of colorectal cancer, and 203,000 associated deaths by 2030. 

“Colon cancer screening is covered in full as an ‘essential benefit’ of all health insurance, so there’s really no excuse for not getting screened, and it can save your life,” says Massa.

Learn more about colon cancer screening from a downloadable Excellus BCBS infographic online at

For further reading, check out  Too Busy for a Colonoscopy? A Story of Regret and Redemption” about how Lynn Johnson beat colon cancer.

For more information about colorectal cancer, visit the following websites: