How Healthy Is Your Colon?

Colorectal cancer rates are falling as more people are getting screened.

National Journal
Clara Ritger
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Clara Ritger
March 16, 2014, 8:05 p.m.

Few­er people are be­ing dia­gnosed with colon can­cer be­cause more people are get­ting screened, a new study finds.

Colono­scopy use has tripled among adults ages 50 to 75, ac­cord­ing to find­ings re­leased Monday by the Amer­ic­an Can­cer So­ci­ety. In 2010, some 55 per­cent of older Amer­ic­ans re­ceived colono­scop­ies, up from 19 per­cent in 2000.

In­cid­ence rates of colon can­cer among older Amer­ic­ans dropped by 30 per­cent from 2001-10, ac­cord­ing to the data.

Colorectal can­cer, com­monly known as colon can­cer, is the third most com­mon can­cer and the third lead­ing cause of can­cer death among men and wo­men in the United States.

Screen­ings are an im­port­ant pre­ven­tion tool, be­cause colon can­cer be­gins as a precan­cer­ous polyp, which doc­tors can re­move be­fore it de­vel­ops in­to tu­mor. Screen­ings can also de­tect can­cer early, and early treat­ment in­creases the like­li­hood of sur­viv­al. Some 90 per­cent of pa­tients sur­vive when colon can­cer has been dia­gnosed be­fore it has spread, com­pared with 70 per­cent when it has spread to nearby or­gans and 13 per­cent when it has spread to dis­tant or­gans.

The data comes as the Health and Hu­man Ser­vices De­part­ment and Na­tion­al Colorectal Can­cer Roundtable — an or­gan­iz­a­tion foun­ded by the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion and the Amer­ic­an Can­cer So­ci­ety — make a new na­tion­wide push to in­crease screen­ing rates to 80 per­cent by 2018.

“These con­tinu­ing drops in in­cid­ence and mor­tal­ity show the lifesav­ing po­ten­tial of colon can­cer screen­ing — a po­ten­tial that an es­tim­ated 23 mil­lion Amer­ic­ans between ages 50 and 75 are not be­ne­fit­ing from be­cause they are not up to date on screen­ing,” said Richard Wender, Amer­ic­an Can­cer So­ci­ety chief can­cer con­trol of­ficer, in a press re­lease.

The num­ber of Amer­ic­ans re­ceiv­ing colono­scop­ies and re­lated screen­ings is ex­pec­ted to go up as more Amer­ic­ans ob­tain health in­sur­ance and get ac­cess to pre­vent­ive screen­ings at little to no cost, one of the primary pro­vi­sions of the Af­ford­able Care Act.

The res­ults of the study were pub­lished in the March/April is­sue of CA: A Can­cer Journ­al for Clini­cians. Re­search­ers eval­u­ated data from the CDC and the Na­tion­al Can­cer In­sti­tute in pre­par­ing the re­port.

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