Colorectal Cancer

Risk factors for colorectal cancer include:

  • Age. People older than 50 are more likely to get colorectal cancer.
  • Family history. Close family members (parents, brothers, sisters or children) of a person with a history of colon cancer are somewhat more likely to develop this disease.
  • Colon polyps. Detecting and removing pre-cancerous polyps may reduce the risk of colon cancer.

What you can do to prevent and treat colorectal cancer

You can lower your risk for colorectal cancer by following these steps:

  • Quit smoking. Smokers are more likely to develop cancer than nonsmokers. But after three years smoke-free, the risk drops to that of a nonsmoker.
  • Exercise. Thirty minutes of moderate physical activity each day can help control diabetes and obesity – two risk factors for colorectal cancer.
  • Eat healthfully. Pay attention to the food groups – include plenty of whole grains, fruit and vegetables, and avoid excess saturated fats, trans fats, sodium and sugar. Getting enough calcium can also reduce your risk for colorectal cancer.
  • Get a colonoscopy or other colorectal exam. Begin getting screened for colon cancer at age 50 – or earlier if you're at risk.

If detected early, colorectal cancer may be prevented by removing precancerous polyps. Your doctor will recommend treatment based on the stage of the disease and whether your cancer is in the colon or rectum. Treatment options typically include surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and radiation therapy.

Talking to your doctor

Begin regular screenings for colorectal cancer, including colonoscopy, at age 50. But if you have a family history of colorectal cancer, colorectal polyps or irritable bowel syndrome, talk to your doctor. You might want to begin screenings earlier and start preventive treatment.

Am I at risk?

Early detection is key to recovery. See your doctor right away if you experience any of these common symptoms:

  • A change in your bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation or a change in the consistency of your stool
  • Feeling that your bowel does not empty completely, rectal bleeding, or finding blood (either bright red or very dark) in your stool
  • Finding your stools are narrower than usual
  • Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas, pain, or feeling full or bloated
  • Losing weight with no known reason
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Having nausea or vomiting

Getting the most from your health plan

It’s a good idea to get familiar with what’s covered by your plan. You can save money by choosing services and providers in your network – and making smart choices about your care. Here are some tips on how to get high-quality care at a price that works with your budget. 

Simple ways to save.

Here are a few quick ways to keep your costs under control:

  • Stay in network – Choosing providers in your network will almost always mean you’ll pay less.
  • Know what’s covered – You can find your coverage and benefits information on myuhc.comOpens a new window to learn exactly what’s covered and what’s not. Review this information before you start using your plan so you’re not surprised by costs later.
  • Understand key health insurance terms – It’s a good idea to know what important health insurance terms mean. Here are two important terms that can keep your costs in check:
    • Referral – A referral is when a primary care physician (PCP) authorizes a covered person to see a specialist for diagnosis or treatment of a medical condition.  Not all health plans require a referral, but if your plan does, ask your PCP or clinic for an electronic referral before you visit a specialist. Without this referral, you’ll likely pay more or your care may not be covered. If you don’t know if you need a referral, visit the coverage & benefits section of myuhc.comOpens a new window or call the number on your ID card to find out. Your ID card may even say, “Referrals Required.”
    • Prior authorization – Prior authorization means getting approval before you can get access to medicine or services. With prior authorization, your health insurance agrees to pay for the service – and it’s important to know that ahead of time. If you are unsure of whether you need prior authorization for a service, take a look at your coverage documents or call the number on your ID card.

If you see health insurance terms you don’t know, like “deductible” or “coinsurance,” review our Common Terms. You'll find many words defined in plain, clear language to help you make informed decisions.

Sign up on

There’s an easy way to find network doctors, see what’s covered, review your claims and estimate the cost of services – it’s all in one place on myuhc.comOpens a new window. Sign up in less than one minute and you’ll get access to a personalized site that includes all of your health information and helps you manage your health care and costs quickly and easily. 

Download the Health4Me app

Use this free app to get easy mobile access to review cost estimates and claims, find network providers, get a digital health plan ID card and more. Learn More

Get cost estimates.

Use the Cost Estimator tool on myuhc.comOpens a new window or the Health4Me app to check on the cost of services and providers before you make appointments.

Save on your medications.

Simple pharmacy tips can help you save when you’re filling your prescriptions. Learn More