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Press Release

March 13, 2003
Contact: Mary Kay Sones
(770) 488–5131

CDC Study Finds Colorectal Cancer Screening Rates Remain Low

Although scientific evidence shows that more than one-third of deaths from colorectal cancer could be avoided if people aged 50 and older were screened regularly, American’s screening rates remain low, CDC reported today.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the United States and in 2001, only 53.1 percent of U.S. men and women aged 50 years and older had received colorectal cancer testing within the recommended screening periods. Approximately half (47%) have not received the colorectal cancer testing within the recommended screening periods.

In 2003, an estimated 57,100 people will die from colorectal cancer even though screening could find pre-cancerous growths, called polyps, which lead to the disease. Polyps can be removed before they turn into cancer, thereby preventing the disease and potentially reducing deaths. Compared to other cancer screening rates for women over age 50 such as mammography (92.1 percent), the use of colorectal cancer tests remains low.

“We are still losing too many lives to a disease that largely can be prevented,” said HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson. "Colorectal cancer is one cancer where regular screening clearly has benefits. Screening saves lives."

CDC recommends that men and women begin regular colorectal cancer screening when they reach age 50 using one or a combination of the four recommended screening tests: fecal occult blood test, sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy or barium enema. Based on the most current survey data, just 44.6 percent of adults in this age group reported ever having fecal occult blood test (FOBT), and 47.3 percent reported ever having a lower endoscopy (sigmoidscopy or colonscopy). Widespread use of these tests has the potential to save many lives through prevention and effective treatment of early-stage disease.

“This new report provides more evidence that many who are at risk for colorectal cancer are not getting recommended screenings,” said Dr. Julie Gerberding, CDC Director. “We must continue to expand our efforts to educate Americans and their health care providers that colorectal cancer is treatable and often preventable.”

To encourage colorectal cancer screening, CDC and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) jointly support an education program – Screen for Life: A National Colorectal Cancer Action Campaign. Campaign materials are available online at In addition, A Call to Action: Prevention and Early Detection of Colorectal Cancer, a comprehensive slide presentation for health care providers, is also available online at

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CDC protects people's health and safety by preventing and controlling diseases and injuries; enhances health decisions by providing credible information on critical health issues; and promotes healthy living through strong partnerships with local, national, and international organizations.


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This page last updated March 13, 2003

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