Colon Cancer Screening for the Uninsured

Colorectal cancers are highly preventable and, when caught early, are among the most curable types of cancers. Despite this positive outlook, colorectal cancers remain the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S.

Doctor on iPad talking with patient in his office
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Clinical guidelines recommend colorectal cancer screening start at age 45 for average-risk adults, with earlier screenings recommended for people with a family history or another risk factor. Despite these recommendations, less than 70% of adults in the U.S. are up to date with routine colorectal cancer screenings.

The people hit hardest by this access gap are uninsured adults. Insurance status is the biggest determinant of whether or not people get screened for colorectal cancer.

Average Cost of Colorectal Screening Options

Nearly 29 million people in the U.S. are uninsured. Of these, many likely assume they can't get a colon cancer screening or other preventive care due to high cost and general inaccessibility.

On average, the line items costs for the various screening options include:

  • Fecal occult blood test: $3 to $40
  • Fecal DNA testing: $400 to $800
  • Double-contrast barium enema: $200 to $1,000
  • Virtual colonoscopy: $750 to $2,000
  • Sigmoidoscopy: $2,000 to $3,750
  • Conventional colonoscopy: $2,000 to $3,750

Even if you are able to afford some of these costs, the price tag of the most sophisticated tests is well out of reach for the average American.

But here's the trick: Cheaper doesn't necessarily mean worse. Today, the technology used for virtual (CT) colonoscopy is not only less invasive than a conventional colonoscopy, it is often just as effective and able to see not only inside the colon but outside, as well.

Financial Assistance for the Uninsured

If paying out of pocket isn't feasible for you, financial assistance may be available from a number of state and local resources. Eligibility is typically based on the family's annual income with thresholds ranging from 200% to 400% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) and even more in some states. This means that not only lower-income families qualify but some middle-income earners, as well:

Among the option available to eligible individuals and families:

  • Medicaid is a federal healthcare program administered by individual states. Colon cancer screening is classified as an essential benefit under federal law, meaning that the state is obliged to cover the cost in full. With this being said, each state also gets to dictate which kind of screening it will provide. You can find out what's offered in your state, as well as the current eligibility requirements, at Benefits.gov.
  • Medicare Part B offers the same benefits free of charge to adults 50 and over. Options vary but can include double-contrast barium enema, colonoscopy, fecal occult blood test, fecal DNA test, and flexible sigmoidoscopy.
  • Free colorectal screening programs are sometimes offered through community-based initiatives and local health departments. You can locate some of these programs through the nonprofit Stop Colon Cancer Now.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta also sponsors a Screening for Life program which reimburses participating health departments for cancer screenings. When contacting your state or local health department, ask if they participate in the CDC program and if it extends to colorectal screenings.
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Article Sources
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  1. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An update on cancer deaths in the United States. Last reviewed February 23, 2021.

  2. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Colorectal cancer statistics. Last reviewed June 8, 2021.

  3. Shaukat A, Kahi CJ, Burke CA, et al. ACG clinical guidelines: Colorectal cancer screening 2021. Am J Gastroenterol. 2021 Mar 1;116(3):458-479. doi: 10.14309/ajg.0000000000001122.

  4. Kaiser Family Foundation. Key facts about the uninsured population. Published November 6, 2020.