Colon cancer rates are on the decline, as they have been since the mid-1980s and have further plunged by 30 percent over the last decade among Americans 50-years-old and older. A new study cites colonoscopies for the decline.
Colon cancer related death rates have also fallen as well, declining about 3 percent a year between 2001 and 2010, compared with 2 percent a year in the previous decade, according to the American Cancer Society study of government data.
American Cancer Society Chief Medical Officer Otis Brawley estimates that without screening efforts that have become widespread after beginning in the 1980s, “we’d be seeing twice as many deaths today. This study celebrates the fact that we’ve almost halved the mortality rate from colon cancer in the last 35 years.”
Despite the dramatic drop, colon cancer remains the third most common cancer and the third leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. More than 136,000 new cases develop each year and about 50,000 deaths related to it.
The study found the decline was particularly present among elder Americans. The rate of colon cancer among those 65 and older dropped about 7 percent a year from 2008 to 2010. Americans are also clearly taking their health screenings seriously, as the percentage of Americans who are up-to-date on recommended colon-cancer screening rose from 55 percent to 65 percent in just the past decade.
Screenings for breast and prostate cancer have felt the heat in recent years for over-diagnosing malignancies – in other words, finding a significant number of early cancers that would never cause harm if left untreated, leading to unnecessary treatment. Colon cancer screening has remained less controversial.
“With colon cancer, it’s not so much screening to find early cancers but screening to find polyps and remove them, which prevents cancer,” said James Church, a colorectal cancer surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic, who did not take part in this new study.