More Colon Cancer Screenings, Fewer Cancers

Colorectal cancer screenings prevented more than half a million cancers

(RxWiki News) What does it take to save a half million people from a terrible disease? Getting the word out and encouraging people to come in for screenings, it seems.

More than 500,000 colon cancers have been prevented in the past 30 years, and that may be because people were listening to advice and getting screened, a new study suggests.

"If you are 50 or older, ask your doctor about screening for colon cancer."

This study on rates of colon cancer since screening became more acceptable was led by Daniel Yang, PhD, of Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut.

The researchers wanted to look at the incidence of colon cancer over the past three decades. They noted that colonoscopy (a procedure that allows doctors to see the inside of the colon) has become the gold standard of screening tools for colon cancer. Fecal occult blood testing (FOBT) is another screening test that is growing in popularity. FOBT, which tests for hidden blood in the stool, is less invasive than colonoscopy, but is often done along with sigmoidoscopy, a procedure used to look inside the colon and rectum.

The authors of this study also noted that researchers are studying other methods of screening for colorectal cancer, such as stool DNA testing. As such, the future may have even more screening options for colon cancer.

For their study, Dr. Yang and colleagues used data on cancer trends from the National Cancer Institute from 1976 to 2009, and data from Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Database on screening use from 1986 to 2010. These researchers looked at information for people 50 years of age and older, since colon cancer screening is recommended for that age group.

The investigators found that from 1987 to 2010, the amount of adults who underwent screening for colon cancer rose from 34.8 percent to 66.1 percent.

These researchers also found that rates of late-stage colorectal cancers went from 118 cases per 100,000 people to 74 cases per 100,000. Early-stage cancers also dropped from 77 to 67 cases per 100,000 people.

This study also showed a trend towards finding more early-stage cancers, the authors wrote. “The shift from late to early-stage colorectal cancers is likely because of the earlier detection of clinically occult cancers by screening that otherwise would have progressed to later stage and become symptomatic.”

Altogether, colorectal cancer screening was associated with a reduction of about 550,000 cases of colorectal cancer in the past 30 years in the United States.

The authors noted that several other screening methods have been assessed as of late, such as prostate-specific antigen testing for prostate cancer and mammograms for breast cancer, regarding their ability to improve survival rates without overdiagnosing.

Screening for colon cancer seems supported by this study.

In an editorial accompanying this study, Chyke Doubeni, MD, MPH, of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote that while many strides have been made in the prevention of colon cancer, screening rates are below the public health goal of 70.5 percent of all people aged 50 and older, and progress has been particularly slow among some minority groups.

Dr. Doubeni wrote, "All said, our success in maintaining sustained decreases in [colorectal cancer] incidence will be defined by our ability to improve delivery to underserved populations.”

The study by Dr. Yang and colleagues was published in the journal Cancer on June 3.

The authors reported a number of funding sources, including Medtronic, Johnson & Johnson and the National Center for Advancing Translational Science. Two of the study's authors disclosed potential conflicts of interest with 21st Century Oncology.

Dr. Doubeni disclosed receiving personal fees from Exact Sciences outside of the editorial work.

Review Date: 
June 5, 2014