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Colorectal Cancer Screening Saves Lives

A new CDC Vital Signs report says the rates of colorectal cancer cases and deaths are falling, but more adults need to be screened.

  • The rate of new cases of colorectal cancer fell from 52.3 per 100,000 in 2003 to 45.4 per 100,000 in 2007, representing nearly 66,000 fewer cancers.
  • The colorectal cancer death rate fell from 19.0 per 100,000 in 2003 to 16.7 per 100,000 in 2007, representing nearly 32,000 fewer deaths.
  • 1 in 3 adults are not getting screened as recommended.

Types of Screening Tests

Man and woman in a gardenColorectal cancer screening tests can find precancerous polyps—abnormal growths in the colon or rectum—so they can be removed before they turn into cancer. Screening also helps find colorectal cancer at an early stage, when it is easiest to treat.

Colorectal cancer screening saves lives. About half of the declines in the expected new cases and deaths from colorectal cancer were due to screening. Recommended screening tests include—

  • Fecal occult blood test (FOBT), done at home every year.
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy done by a health care provider every five years, accompanied by FOBT every three years.
  • Colonoscopy done by a health care provider every 10 years.

Many Adults Aren't Getting Screened

Although the percentage of adults screened for colorectal cancer increased 13% from 2002 to 2010, 1 in 3 adults between the ages of 50 and 75 are not up-to-date with colorectal cancer screening as of 2010. Reasons why people don't get screened for colorectal cancer include—

  • A health care provider didn't tell them they should get screened.
  • They don't realize that everyone's risk increases with age.
  • They don't have health insurance or a health care provider.
  • They fear the test, or fear the test will be positive for cancer.

Photo: Four adultsHealthy People provides science-based, 10-year national objectives for improving the health of all Americans. If the Healthy People 2020 target for colorectal cancer screening (70.5% of adults aged 50–75) is met, almost 1,000 additional deaths may be prevented each year.

What You Can Do

  • If you're 50–75 years old, ask your health care provider which colorectal cancer screening tests are right for you.
  • Know your family history and personal risk factors. Ask your health care provider if you should be screened at an earlier age or more often than other people.
  • Most insurance plans and Medicare help pay for screening tests. If you don't have insurance, or your insurance doesn't cover the screening tests and you can't afford them, call your local health department and ask about free or low-cost screening. Many states provide colorectal cancer screening services to low-income, uninsured people. You can also call 1 (800) CDC-INFO or visit CDC's Colorectal Cancer Control Program to learn more.
  • Your health insurer may provide coverage based on new requirements in the Affordable Care Act. Check with your health insurer.

More Information

CDC works 24/7 saving lives and protecting people from health threats to have a more secure nation. A US federal agency, CDC helps make the healthy choice the easy choice by putting science and prevention into action. CDC works to help people live longer, healthier and more productive lives.


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  • Page last reviewed: July 5, 2011
  • Page last updated: July 5, 2011
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