July 5th, 2011
05:21 PM ET
Fewer people are being diagnosed with colorectal cancer according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It shows that the number of cases slipped 3.4% from 2003 to 2007, an annual decrease of about 66,000. The number of people dying from colorectal cancer also is declining - by 3% a year, the study finds.
CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden calls this “significant progress."
“This is good news. We now understand that colon cancer screening can save your life, and more and more Americans are taking advantage of it.”
The report attributes half of the lives saved to an increase in screening (primarily by colonoscopy) and about one-third (35%) to people reducing their risk factors by losing weight and kicking the smoking habit, for instance.
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer among men and women combined, according to the American Cancer Society, which estimates about 49,380 deaths from it will occur this year.
Frieden says nearly two-thirds of Americans aged 50 to 75 had some form of colon cancer screening. The report shows the number of Americans getting screened has been going up steadily since 1985.
Frieden calls the increase “remarkable” but he says he is “concerned it is beginning to level off.”
Beginning at age 50, both men and women of average risk for developing colorectal cancer should get screened according to the American Cancer Society.
Frieden says he has a family history of colon cancer, so he had his first colonoscopy 10 years ago at age 40. During his next scheduled screening, which occurred sometime since the end of 2010, Frieden says, his doctor found "four polyps, all of them were removed, two of them were rather large, but none of them were cancerous [yet].” He credits the procedure with saving his life.
Polyps are small growths that are common in adults. Many are harmless, but most colon cancer starts as a polyp. Removing the polyps prevents them from becoming tumors.
One-third of Americans who should be screened for colon cancer aren't, so there is room for improvement there, according to the CDC. Frieden says many of the 22 million people aged 50 to 75 who have not been screened have never been asked to take the test by their physician.
“Doctors, nurses and other health care providers can do a lot in making colon cancer screening routine,” Frieden says. “As more people understand that colon cancer screening can save your life, I think the resistance to colon cancer screening goes down.”
Another factor preventing people from getting screened is what a patient needs to do before a colonoscopy.
“There is no doubt the preparation is unpleasant… but it’s a whole lot more unpleasant to die young from a preventable illness,” Frieden says. “Screening works and the more people get screened the lower death rates are going to go.”
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.