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Cancer Screening in the United States

The percentage of Americans who have been screened for cancer remains below national targets, with continued disparities between racial and ethnic groups, according to a study by CDC and the National Cancer Institute.

Healthy People 2020 sets national goals for improving the health of all Americans, including the use of screening tests recommended by the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) for breast, cervical, and colorectal (colon) cancers. The USPSTF recommends that—

  • Women who are 50 to 74 years old should be screened for breast cancer with a mammogram every two years.
  • Women are 21 to 65 years old should be screened for cervical cancer with a Pap test at least every three years, regardless of sexual activity.
  • Men and women who are 50 to 75 years old should be screened for colorectal cancer in one of the following three ways—
    • A high-sensitivity fecal occult blood test (FOBT) every year.
    • Sigmoidoscopy every five years and a high-sensitivity FOBT every three years.
    • A colonoscopy every 10 years.

Screening Rates

Using data from the National Health Interview Survey, the study found the following overall screening rates in 2010—

  • The breast cancer screening rate was 72.4%, below the Healthy People 2020 target of 81%.
  • The cervical cancer screening rate was 83%, below the target of 93%.
  • The colorectal cancer screening was 58.6%, below the target of 70.5%.

Screening rates were lower among Asians (64.1% for breast cancer, 75.4% for cervical cancer, and 46.9% for colorectal cancer) compared with other groups, and rates varied among Asian subgroups (Chinese, Filipino, and other Asian).

Hispanics were less likely to be screened than non-Hispanics (69.7% for breast cancer, 78.7% for cervical cancer, and 46.5% for colorectal cancer), and rates varied among Hispanic subgroups (Puerto Rican, Mexican, Mexican American, Central or South American, and other Hispanic).

Screening Trends from 2000 to 2010

  • Breast cancer screening rates stayed about the same.
  • Colorectal cancer screening rates rose for both men and women. The rate for women increased slightly faster, so that the rates for men and women were about the same in 2010 (58.5% for men and 58.8% for women).
  • The rate of women who reported getting a Pap test within the last three years dropped slightly (3.3%) over the 10-year period.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Cancer screening—United States, 2010. MMWR 2012;61(3):41–45.