Your doctor may recommend a colonoscopy screening as you age or if you have certain risk factors that require monitoring your colon or rectum. Discover more about the types of colonoscopies available and how Medicare coverage can help cover these procedures.

When are Colonoscopy Screenings Necessary?

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, anyone over the age of 50 should receive a colonoscopy as part of their routine set of physical examinations. This can help catch any early signs of colorectal cancer, such as polyps, that your doctor can remove before they become cancerous tissue.

Changes in the bowel that can’t be explained by diet or other medical conditions may also present a need to undergo a colonoscopy. Pain in the abdomen, bleeding from the rectum or unplanned weight loss are also symptoms that may indicate the need for a colonoscopy. Your doctor will discuss your symptoms with you, and consider any possible contributing factors, including adverse reactions to certain foods or drinks, any related family health history, or other medical conditions before ordering a colonoscopy.

What to Expect During a Colonoscopy Screening

Conventional colonoscopies use a scope, also known as a colonoscope, which is a thin, flexible tube that has a lens and light at the end to allow your doctor to visually exam your colon. The length of time this procedure lasts can vary, but it is usually between thirty and sixty minutes.

If your doctor finds polyps or wants to take a biopsy, special tools designed to carefully remove the polyp or collect the biopsy while causing minimal discomfort and tissue damage will be used. Medication, like anesthesia or other sedatives, is provided during the screening to help you remain relaxed and as comfortable as possible.

Other related procedures that help test for colorectal issues include:

  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy. While this test also uses a colonoscope, the examination focuses only on the lower large intestine and rectum.
  • Hemoccult. Also called a fecal occult blood test, this test takes a sample of your stool which is then checked for blood at a lab.
  • Multi-target stool DNA test. As with the hemoccult test, a sample of your stool is tested not only for the presence of blood but also any abnormal genetic components that indicate a higher risk of colorectal cancer.
  • Barium enema. Using barium allows doctors to examine an X-ray of your large intestine for any contrasts that indicate growths in the intestine, which the white of the barium will reveal as dark spots in the image.

Any of these tests may require certain preparations before they can be completed, such as cleansing or voiding your bowels up to a day beforehand. Your doctor will talk to you about anything you may need to consider before undergoing a colonoscopy screening.

Medicare Coverage for Colonoscopies

Medicare covers screening colonoscopies once every 24 months if you are considered at high risk for colorectal cancer. If you are not at high risk for colorectal cancer, Medicare will cover the test once every 120 months, or 48 months after a previous flexible sigmoidoscopy. There’s no minimum age requirement.

If you have Original Medicare, you will pay nothing for this test if your doctor or other qualified health care provider accepts assignment. If a polyp or other tissue is found and removed during the colonoscopy, you may pay 20% of the Medicare-approved amount of your doctor’s services and a copayment in a hospital setting. The Medicare Part B deductible does not apply.

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