Report Shows More Screening Has Led to a 30% Drop in Colon Cancer Rates

Key Points

  • The rate at which people are diagnosed with colorectal cancer in the United States has dropped by 30% in the last 10 years among people aged 50 years and older. The result is due to more people getting recommended screening tests.
  • Death rates from colon cancer have fallen, decreasing by about 3% per year over the last decade—from approximately 2% per year during the 1990s—with the largest drops occurring in people aged 65 and older.
  • The incidence and death rates from colon cancer are highest in African Americans and lowest in Asians/Pacific Islanders.

Findings from a report by Siegel et al of the American Cancer Society (ACS) show that the rate at which people are diagnosed with colorectal cancer in the United States has dropped by 30% in the last 10 years among people aged 50 years and older. The researchers say the decline in incidence is due to more people getting recommended screening tests (and this has presumably led to increased detection of precancerous polyps). The report is published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

Study Findings

According to the report, increased use of screening tests over the past decade has led to unprecedented progress in reducing colon cancer incidence and death rates in the United States. Colonoscopy use has almost tripled among people aged 50 to 75, from 19% in 2000 to 55% in 2010. However, in 2010 only 59% of adults’ aged 50 or older reported being current with their colon cancer screening.

In addition to the 30% reduction in incidence rates, the researchers found that death rates from colon cancer have also fallen, decreasing by about 3% per year over the past decade—from approximately 2% per year during the 1990s—with the largest drops occurring in people aged 65 and older.

However, racial disparities in incidence and death rates remain striking. The report found that incidence and death rates from colon cancer are highest in African Americans and lowest in Asians/Pacific Islanders. Among males during 2006 through 2010, death rates in blacks (29.4 per 100,000 population) were more than double those in Asians/Pacific Islanders (13.1 per 100,000 population) and 50% higher than those in non-Hispanic whites (19.2 per 100,000 population).

Incidence data for the report were provided by the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results program and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries. Mortality data were provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics.

Improving Access to Screening Is Key

Progress in reducing colorectal cancer death rates can be accelerated by improving access to and use of screening and standard treatment in all populations, according to the report.

“These continuing drops in incidence and mortality show the lifesaving potential of colon cancer screenings; a potential that an estimated 20 million of Americans over 50, who have never been screened, have not benefitted from,” Richard C. Wender, MD, Chief Cancer Control Officer of the ACS, said in a statement. “Continuing this hopeful trend will require concrete efforts to make sure all patients, particularly those who are economically disenfranchised, have access to screening and to the best care available.”

Colorectal Cancer Statistics in 2014

According to the ACS, colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the third leading cause of cancer death in both men and women in the United States. The report estimates that 136,830 people will be diagnosed with colon cancer this year and 50,310 people will die from the disease. There are approximately 1.2 million colon cancer survivors in the United States.

The ACS and the CDC are leading a coalition of over 70 public, private, and voluntary organizations in an effort to drastically increase colon cancer screening rates in the United States to 80% by 2018.

Rebecca Siegel, MPH, of the American Cancer Society, is the corresponding author for the CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians article.

The study authors reported no conflicts of interest.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.


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