CDC: Colorectal cancer screening saves lives, but 1 in 3 skip it

November 5, 2013 | by

One in three Americans ages 50 to 75 are skipping the recommended screenings for colorectal cancer, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, even though the disease is the nation's second-biggest cancer killer behind lung cancer.

In total, the CDC reports, about 23 million adults who should undergo the potentially lifesaving screenings have not done so.  Those least likely to be screened include Hispanics, people age 50 to 64 and men in general.

One City of Hope expert blames a lack of accurate information. “People have a lot of misconceptions about this kind of exam or think they have to wait for symptoms, but then it’s not a screening test,” Donald David, M.D., chief of the Division of Gastroenterology at City of Hope, said in a USA Today story.

David said one reason people hesitate to be tested for colorectal cancer – often done by a colonoscopy, first around age 50 and again 10 years later – is because they worry about the cost. However, for many, the preventive screening is fully covered by insurance. In fact, the CDC found that about two of every three adults who have never been tested actually have a regular doctor and health insurance that could pay for the test.

Among nonsmokers, colorectal cancer is the leading cause of cancer death nationwide, killing more than 50,000 people each year.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task force recommends screening for adults 50 and older. David, who serves on the National Comprehensive Cancer Network committee that recommends screening, points out that screening recommendations vary depending on an individual’s risk. Those with a family history of colorectal cancer may be at higher risk.

Screening options include:

-Colonoscopy, in which a flexible lighted tube is used to look at the entire colon. During the procedure, samples of tissue can be collected and polyps – which may over time turn into cancer – can be removed. This immediate intervention is one benefit of the procedure, David told ABC 7 in an interview .

Some patients are reluctant to undergo the colonoscopy procedure, largely because of the preparation, which requires them to consume liquids that help to clear the colon in advance of the procedure. David says these liquids have improved in taste, and are now available in a much smaller volume that can be taken in two doses.

-High-sensitivity fecal occult blood test, which can be done at home. Stool samples are applied to cards that are mailed in for analysis, seeking hidden blood in the stool. These have to be done yearly to be beneficial.

-Flexible sigmoidoscopy, in which a flexible, lighted tube is used to examine the interior walls of the rectum and part of the colon. It can be used in conjunction with the fecal occult blood test and is typically done every three to five years.

The CDC recommends that everyone:

  • Learn about available testing options and then choose the test that’s right for them.
  • Know their own family history and any personal risks they may have for colorectal cancer.
  • Encourage loved ones to be screened.

“Most people are savvy enough now to know that it’s part of the rite of passage once you turn 50,” David said. “When you get to your 50th birthday, it should just be an expectation that you make an appointment for this screening.”