A Sharp Drop in Deaths From Colon Cancer

Colon cancer screenings have led to a 30 percent drop in cases for people aged 50 and older, the American Cancer Society reports. Death rates have also declined.

The drop was measured over the last ten years. The researchers who conducted the study said the decrease was due to more people getting recommended screening tests. And even more deaths could be avoided if everyone got their screening tests on time.

“These continuing drops in incidence and mortality show the lifesaving potential of colon cancer screening; a potential that an estimated 20 million of Americans over 50, who have never been screened, have not benefitted from,” said Richard C. Wender, MD, American Cancer Society chief cancer control officer, in a statement. He said that for the trend to continue, screenings would have to be made more widely available, especially to people who might not be able to afford them.

The findings are published in Colorectal Cancer Statistics, 2014 in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians and its companion piece Colorectal Cancer Facts & Figures 2014-2016.

Colon cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the third leading cause of cancer death in both men and women in the US. Approximately 5%, or 1 in 20, Americans will be diagnosed with colon cancer in their lifetime.

Screening can prevent colon cancer because it can often detect pre-cancerous growths, called polyps. Although most polyps won’t become cancer, removing them can prevent cancer from occurring. And if colon cancer is present, regular screening increases the chances of finding it earlier.

The American Cancer Society recommends colon cancer screening begin at age 50 for people at average risk. If you have other risk factors, people should talk to their doctor about earlier and more frequent screenings.

Studies about why more people are not getting tested have found the reasons include cost and lack of access to health care, usually because of no health insurance. However, a doctor’s recommendation increases the chances someone will get screened even if they aren’t insured. The chances a patient will go for a screening also increases if their physician tells them about the kinds of screening tests that are available.

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