September 2011 Clinical Laboratory News: News Brief

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September 2011: Volume 37, Number 9

Colorectal Cancer Screening Rate Remains Low

A new report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that in 2010 one in three adults age 50 or older, roughly 22 million people, did not get recommended colorectal cancer screening tests. In 2007, more than 142,000 people were diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and more than 53,000 people died from the disease.

Even though the number of colorectal cancer cases and deaths is decreasing across the U.S., CDC officials stress in the Vital Signs report, “Colorectal Cancer Screening, Incidence, and Mortality—United States, 2002–2010,” that too many adults do not follow the agency’s recommendations.


The agency recommends that all adults 50 to 75 years old get screened for colorectal cancer by one of the following tests: a fecal occult blood test (FOBT) every year; flexible sigmoidoscopy performed by a healthcare provider every 5 years; or a colonoscopy performed by a healthcare provider every 10 years. Adults at higher risk for colon cancer, including individuals who suffer from Crohn’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease, some genetic disorders, or who have a personal history of either polyps or colorectal cancer, should undergo more frequent testing.

New data in the report underscore the value of screening for the disease. Between 2003 and 2007, approximately 66,000 colorectal cancer cases were prevented and 32,000 lives were saved compared to 2002. The percentage of adults screened for colorectal cancer increased 13% from 2002 to 2010.

Reducing the number of deaths from the disease would also relieve a significant burden to the healthcare system. In 2010, the estimated direct medical cost of colorectal cancer care was $14 billion. According to the report, this cost could be reduced if health insurance plans would cover colorectal cancer screening tests at no cost to participants.

CDC officials estimate that if the 2020 target for colorectal cancer screening—70.5% of adults age 50–75—is met, nearly 1,000 additional colon cancer deaths will be prevented annually.

The full report is available online.

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