BATON ROUGE, La. – According to a new study released by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBS), while the overall rate of colorectal cancer diagnoses among commercially insured Americans has remained largely steady across all age groups since 2014, there has been a substantial increase in the prevalence of known risk factors for colorectal cancer—including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, Type I and II diabetes and diagnosed obesity—across all generations and especially in the millennial age group.
State-specific data in the report, “Rise in Chronic Conditions Is Putting More Americans at Risk for Colorectal Cancer,” show Louisiana saw significant increases in all three of these major risk factors during the study period of 2014-2018. These increases occurred in both the millennial age group and the group aged 50+, and they reflect the increases in national numbers. But Louisiana’s prevalence numbers are higher than the national average in all three risk factors and both age groups.
In addition, the Louisiana Cancer Prevention & Control Programs reports the state has the country’s fourth-highest death rate from colorectal cancer. Louisiana also has a below-average rate of eligible patients being screened for colorectal cancer. The state is called out in the report as one with a high rate of colorectal cancer and low rate of screening.
Dr. Jeremy Wigginton, medical director at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana, is reminding Louisianians about the importance of screening to catch colorectal cancer in its earliest stages, when treatment is most likely to be successful.
“I know colon health is an uncomfortable thing to talk about, but the conversation could save your life,” Wigginton said. “Talk to your doctor about your family history, any risk factors you have and when you should start testing.”
The U.S. Preventive Health Services Task Force recommends everyone start colorectal cancer screening at age 50. People who have a family history of colorectal cancer or certain other conditions, like colitis, might need to begin screening at younger ages. According to the BCBS report, about 60% of people 50+ and nearly half of people with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis aren’t getting screened because of a discomfort with the process or a lack of awareness about the need.
DOUBLE-DIGIT INCREASES IN RISK FACTORS AMONG MILLENNIALS
While the overall rate of colorectal cancer diagnoses remained steady through 2018, the prevalence of conditions that increase the risk for colorectal cancer has increased dramatically. Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, diabetes and diagnosed obesity are up significantly among some age groups, especially millennials. This trend among millennials significantly increases the risk of future diagnoses of colorectal cancer.
In fact, data from the BCBS Health Index show that patients with Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis are at a nearly twofold increased risk for colorectal cancer, and patients with diabetes or diagnosed obesity are at a 1.7 and 1.3 times greater risk of getting colorectal cancer, respectively, compared to those without these conditions.
Colorectal cancer screening is effective at catching the disease in early stages, which can prevent it from developing or spreading. Screening can also pick up on pre-cancerous polyps, which doctors can remove before they turn into cancer.
Most health plans and Medicare plans cover colorectal cancer screening at low or $0 out-of-pocket costs.
“Colonoscopy is the gold standard for colorectal cancer screening, but there are other screening options, even tests you can do at home,” Wigginton said. “The important thing is to ask your doctor about getting tested.”
WHERE TO GET HELP
Many health plans have shopping tools that let you see how much colorectal cancer screening costs at different providers near you. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana members can use Smart Shopper, at bcbsla.com/SmartShopper, to see what they can expect to pay for colonoscopies or other screenings at different facilities in their networks.
If you have been diagnosed with colorectal cancer or another type of cancer, Blue Cross’ care team is here to stand strong with you through every step of your health journey. Health coaches can support you with personalized information, guidance and encouragement. You do not need to pay anything to work with a health coach. Visit bcbsla.com/Stronger to learn more or sign up for health coaching.
Dr. Wigginton explains why it’s important to be aware of colorectal cancer and screening options in this video (2:15).
All year long, you can visit the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana YouTube page to see short videos with the clinical team and others on health topics, monthly wellness observances and more. Subscribe to know when new videos are added. You can also connect with Blue Cross on social media for regular updates on health topics.
THE HEALTH OF AMERICA REPORT® SERIES
The “Rise in Chronic Conditions Is Putting More Americans at Risk for Colorectal Cancer” report is the 32nd study of the Blue Cross Blue Shield, The Health of America Report® series, a collaboration between Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and Blue Health Intelligence (BHI), which uses a market-leading claims database to uncover key trends and insights in healthcare affordability and access to care. This report leverages data from three sources: 1) BCBS Axis Data, 2) the BCBS Health Index, and 3) a 2020 BCBSA consumer survey. For more information, visit https://www.bcbs.com/the-health-of-america.
ABOUT BLUE CROSS AND BLUE SHIELD OF LOUISIANA
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana is committed to our mission to improve the health and lives of Louisianians. Founded in New Orleans in 1934, we are a tax-paying nonprofit health insurer with offices in every major region to serve our customers. We were recognized in 2020 and 2019 as an honoree of The Civic 50, named by Points of Light as one of the 50 most community-minded companies in United States.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. We are a private mutual company, owned by our policyholders, with an independent Louisiana Board of Directors and no shareholders. We invite all Louisianians to visit our website at www.bcbsla.com or talk to us on social media.
ABOUT BLUE CROSS BLUE SHIELD ASSOCIATION
The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association is a national federation of 36 independent, community-based and locally operated Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies that collectively provide health care coverage for one in three Americans. BCBSA provides health care insights through The Health of America Report® series and the national BCBS Health Index. For more information on BCBSA and its member companies, please visit bcbs.com. We also encourage you to connect with us on Facebook, check out our videos on YouTube, follow us on Twitter and check out our blog.