According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cancer of the colon or rectum usually develops from precancerous polyps. Increased screening—which can comprise a fecal occult blood test, sigmoidoscopy, and/or colonoscopy—for these polyps resulted in a 3.4% decreased incidence of colon cancer between the years 2003 and 2007. Almost 1 in 3 adults in the United States, however, do not get screened regularly.
The death rate from colon cancer dropped by 3% per year during 2003 to 2007. This represents an estimated 66,000 cases of colon cancer prevented and an estimated 32,000 lives saved. Screening rates increased by nearly 15% in 2002, largely due to increased awareness of disease mortality after Katie Couric’s on-air colonoscopy. Although both the incidence and death rates dropped by more than 3% during this 5-year period, more than 53,000 people died of colorectal cancer in 2007.
The CDC said that if all patients aged 50 to 75 years—and younger patients who have risk factors for the disease—adhered to the government’s screening target rate (70.5% of the eligible population) by 2020, an extra 1000 deaths from colon cancer could be prevented each year. Reducing risk factors such as smoking and obesity also help lower the death rate. Unfortunately, nearly half of all cases of colorectal cancer are diagnosed late, when it is harder to treat.
More important than celebrity awareness ads is that physicians recommend appropriate colon cancer screening for their patients. Otherwise, the CDC says that patients are less likely to get screened.