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July 12, 2000
Contact: Kymber Williams
CDC, Center for Chronic Disease
Prevention & Health Promotion
(770) 488–4751

Campaign Focuses on Regular Screening to Stop Colorectal Cancer

Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Secretary Donna E. Shalala today announced the kickoff of the second year of "Screen for Life", the national colorectal cancer action campaign. The campaign was developed by CDC and the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA). Screen for Life informs American men and women about the benefits of screening for colorectal cancer beginning at age 50. The campaign also stresses that Medicare, and many insurance plans, help pay for colorectal cancer screening.

During a program held today in Washington, D.C. marking the 35th anniversary of Medicare, Secretary Shalala urged people aged 50 and older to begin having regular colorectal cancer screening tests. "Colorectal cancer is second only to lung cancer as a cause of cancer deaths among American men and women. But it doesn’t have to be," Shalala said. "With Medicare and many insurance plans now helping to pay for colorectal cancer screening, we have a tremendous opportunity to save thousands of lives."

Assistant Secretary for Health and Surgeon General David A. Satcher, M.D., also called on Americans 50 and older to have regular colorectal cancer screening tests. "Regular screening tests can help prevent colorectal cancer or find it early, when treatment is most effective," he said. "I urge all Americans aged 50 and older to speak to your doctor about having a screening test. It could save your life."

It is estimated that 130,200 men and women will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer this year, and more than 56,000 lives will be lost to this disease. Most cases, 93 percent, occur in men and women over age 50.

Studies show that at least 33 percent of deaths from colorectal cancer could be avoided if people 50 and older had regular screening tests. Screening helps reduce deaths from colorectal cancer in two ways: by finding precancerous polyps that can be removed before they become cancer, and by finding colorectal cancer early, when treatment is most effective.

"Clearly, this is a cancer we can do something about," said CDC Director Jeffrey P. Koplan, M.D. "If more people 50 and older began having regular screening tests, we could see a dramatic decrease in the number of new cases and the number of deaths from this disease."

Most Americans 50 and older do not get screening tests for colorectal cancer. According to a 1997 CDC survey, only 41 percent of adults 50 and older reported having had one of the two commonly recommended screening tests—fecal occult blood test or flexible sigmoidoscopy — within the recommended time frame.

CDC, the nation’s disease prevention agency within DHHS, protects the nation’s health and safety, provides credible information for better health decisions and promotes good health through strong partnerships. Other CDC activities to prevent colorectal cancer include providing funds for prevention strategies at the state and national levels, development of epidemiological research and surveillance systems for monitoring national trends, and coordination of a national roundtable to prevent colorectal cancer.

HCFA is the federal agency that runs the Medicare and Medicaid programs — two national health care programs that benefit about 75 million Americans. Passage of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 authorized Medicare coverage of new preventive health benefits, including colorectal cancer screening. Shortly after the passage of that Act, HCFA joined with CDC to begin developing "Screen for Life". For more information about the "Screen for Life" colorectal cancer prevention campaign, visit For more information about colorectal cancer screening, call the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER. To order Screen for Life campaign materials, call 1-888-842-6355. For more information about Medicare coverage of colorectal cancer screening, visit

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This page last reviewed Friday, July 12, 2000

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention