Colon cancer rates drop 30 percent as colonoscopy use triples

More people are getting screened for colon cancer, and fewer people are developing and dying from the disease as a result.

Colon cancer rates among American adults dropped 30 percent from 2000 to 2010, according to numbers released by the American Cancer Society (ACS). Mortality rates from the disease fell by about 3 percent every year of that decade.

Also during that time, the use of colonoscopy to screen for colon cancer tripled among adults ages 50 to 75.

That’s not a coincidence, said Richard C. Wender, MD, chief cancer control officer with the ACS, which published the data in the journal CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

“These continuing drops in incidence and mortality show the lifesaving potential of colon cancer screening,” he said.

The steepest decline in colon cancer occurred among people age 65 and older, an age group eligible for free colonoscopies through Medicare.

The “larger declines among Medicare-eligible seniors likely reflect higher rates of screening because of universal insurance coverage,” wrote the authors of the report.

About the study

Researchers mined data from the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) program and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Program of Cancer Registries from the years 2000 to 2010.

Among their findings:

  • Overall colon cancer incidence rates decreased by an average of 3.4 percent per year.
  • Among adults age 65 and older, colon cancer rates dropped sharply as the decade progressed, declining 3.6 percent annually from 2001 to 2008, then 7.2 percent annually from 2008 to 2010.
  • Among adults age 50 and older, colon cancer rates dropped 3.9 percent per year.
  • Among adults 50 and younger, colon cancer rates went up 1.1 percent per year. According to the ACS, this reflected an increase in specific types of colon cancer linked to obesity and poor diet.
  • Deaths due to colon cancer decreased about 3 percent annually during 2000 to 2010. Those rates had dropped about 2 percent during the previous decade.

Colon cancer remains the third-leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. and the third most common type of cancer. The ACS estimates nearly 137,000 people in the U.S. will be newly diagnosed with colon cancer in 2014 and more than 50,000 people will die of the disease.

The take-home message
Colonoscopy is one of several screening tests for colon cancer. It can find—and remove—polyps in the colon before they have a chance to become cancer.

Current guidelines recommend that most people get screened for the disease beginning at age 50. Ask your doctor about the different types of screening tests available, as well as their benefits and risks.

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