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Colon cancer rates down since 1980s
March 17th, 2014
12:01 AM ET

Colon cancer rates down since 1980s

Colon cancer, which was once the most common cause of cancer death in America, has been on a steady decline for decades, according to a new study in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

In 1985, there were an estimated 66.3 cases of colon cancer for every 100,000 adults in the United States. By 2010 that rate had fallen to 40.6 cases for every 100,000 adults. Deaths dropped during the same time period as well - from 28.5 to 15.5 deaths per 100,000 people.

"Incidence is declining primarily because of screening and finding polyps, which are precancerous lesions that can be removed," said Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society. "We find these precancerous lesions, remove them and 'voilà!' the patient doesn't get cancer."

The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force and the American Cancer Society recommend regular colon cancer screening beginning at age 50.

"Colorectal cancer screening is only being done right now by about 55% of people over the age of 50," Brawley said. "That's one of the reasons why the federal government and the American Cancer Society and other organizations are really trying to push 80% by 2018.

"We actually have data that suggests this could save 15,000 to 20,000 lives a year."


soundoff (29 Responses)
  1. mercfan

    My mom had colon cancer over 10 years ago and still survives. Since then, my 3 brothers and myself have gone for screenings every 2 years. You don't feel anything and you don't even know it's going on. The only dowside is not being able to eat the day before. The last time I went, I was able to have eggs for breakfast the day before, a milk shake for lunch and then clear liquids the rest of the day. Even the prep has improved from when I had my first colonoscopy. There is no reason not to get one.

    March 17, 2014 at 08:04 | Report abuse | Reply
    • D

      Everyone I know has complained with ferocity about the awfulness of the prep for decades, even the ones that have done the colonoscopy in the last few years. Maybe the medical community needs to do a bit of PR in this regard!

      March 17, 2014 at 12:20 | Report abuse |
    • Dr. Dan

      Nicely done! I am a colorectal surgeon in Pennsylvania and couldn't have said it any better. The procedure is painless with appropriate sedation and the prep has improved tremendously. The vast majority of my patients don't even realize they had the proceudre when we're done. Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. but is the most preventable by having routine colonoscopies.

      March 17, 2014 at 13:02 | Report abuse |
    • Kate91

      Yes! I have a strong family history of colon cancer from both sides. I had my first colonoscopy (at 40) two weeks ago and am still shaking my head over what a non-event it was. My anxiety over the dreaded prep was so much worse than the actual experience. I had three small polyps removed and have absolutely no memory of the procedure. I woke up mellow and comfortable and took a nap when I got home. The next day I was completely back to normal. If you are the right age or at risk for the disease, GO NOW and schedule a colonoscopy! The prep isn't that big of a deal and the test could easily save your life.

      March 17, 2014 at 14:16 | Report abuse |
    • ADeVille

      Good for you, Kate91! I too have family history and will be going in for my first colonoscopy in two weeks at the age of 42. Good to know it is not as bad as people made it out to be :D

      March 17, 2014 at 19:15 | Report abuse |
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      March 18, 2014 at 22:58 | Report abuse |
  2. Sarah

    "Whala"?! Apparently has no one heard of the far more common French "voila!". Do we live in such a xenophobic country that we must now re-spell words that we've taken from others?

    March 17, 2014 at 08:26 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Scott in CT

      I was going to make a similar comment about "voila." However, don't confuse being xenophobic with being ignorant. Read enough on the internet and you'll find that many instances of (English) words spelled out how they sound - not how they are actually spelled.

      March 17, 2014 at 09:35 | Report abuse |
    • CTYank

      Exactly. Verbal form of "monkey-see, monkey-do". Conscious thought costs extra.

      March 17, 2014 at 11:09 | Report abuse |
    • Jane Doe

      So what if a word has the spelling changed – it's not necessary for anyone to be harsh about such a trivial subject.

      April 2, 2014 at 16:12 | Report abuse |
  3. Kevin in CT

    My father died of colon cancer at age 52, it was horrible to watch the disease progress. Me, like an incredible dunce, kept putting off the test because I was afraid it would reveal something. Finally, at the insistence of my health insurance company I had the test done (at age62). They found and removed 12 polyps which certainly would have turned into something deadly according to the Drs. So, please everyone get the tests done, I was VERY lucky!

    March 17, 2014 at 08:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Maria

    Great to read this article! My grandmother died at age 75 from colon cancer and my father died from it at age 53. If you have a family history, it's extremely important to get screened. I had a colonoscopy at age 43 with NO symptoms and I had stage 2 colon cancer. (I had a colonoscopy because a few months before I was diagnosed with uterine cancer.) The doctor suspected I had Lynch Syndrome and turns out, he was correct. If you have more than two first-degree relatives with either colon or uterine cancer and especially if one has been diagnosed under the age of 50, I urge you to have this test. It really is painless and you won't remember a thing.

    March 17, 2014 at 09:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Haha

    They ought to come up with something beyond a digital exam (which means finger not electronic) . Many people avoid because they don't want their docs finger shoved up their bu tt.

    March 17, 2014 at 09:36 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SP

      The digital rectal exam is not used for colon cancer screening. It is a method used to check for prostate enlargement or abnormalities.

      March 17, 2014 at 12:32 | Report abuse |
    • Jrad

      They don't generally do the digital exam if you're going in for a routine screening. They might, however, do the digital exam if you're exhibiting symptoms – like bleeding, but that would be to check for things like hemorrhoids, swollen prostate, and other common abnormalities

      March 17, 2014 at 17:57 | Report abuse |
  6. Binky

    "whala"? And these ignorant reporters are trying to "educate" us? "viola" is how it's spelled. After that I need so awderves with my ebonics.

    March 17, 2014 at 10:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • CTYank

      That there's funny. A "viola" is a stringed musical instrument, played with a bow.

      In normal french usage, the doc could have said "Le voila!" as in "There it is!". Guess he/she avoided a liberal education.

      Take it as a given that most reporters have very little depth of education.

      March 17, 2014 at 11:14 | Report abuse |
  7. EVP

    Wow, CNN. Who writes your articles? "Whala"?? The standard of writing and editing on this "news" website has become a joke. Please do better to restore what CNN used to be.

    March 17, 2014 at 12:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. JEF65

    That's a WHALAva story there CNN.

    March 17, 2014 at 13:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. NTKT

    I lost my mom to uterine cancer when she was 47 years old. Myself, I was diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 32. Stage 3B. No obvious symptoms. Went into ER after 3 days of what I thought was food poisoning not getting better. Abdominal pain and vomiting. CAT scan was done. I had a blockage in my colon. An obstruction. Had laparoscopic colon resection surgery 3 days later. They took a foot of my colon out. Was in the hospital for 10 days. Started chemo a month later. Every other week for 6 months. About 4 hours in office, then a portable IV pump connected to my port for the next 48 hours at home. It was rough. Some days better than others. I also had a 12 and a 2 year old at the time. I just passed my 2 year post chemo mark. Got another 3 years to get an all clear from my docs. You can get colon cancer at any age.

    March 17, 2014 at 13:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Robbie S.

      Your story is painfully similar to my mother's, who at age 52 was first misdiagnosed with diverticulitis by a hospital after a CT scan. She went three months or so of not getting better to finally getting a colonoscopy for the FIRST time only to find that she did have colorectal cancer stage IIC. Devastating news for both patient and family! She had invasive surgery to remove the lesion and went through a series of chemo and radiation treatments even though it hadn't metastasized to any other organs or lymph nodes. She is now 2.5 years post surgery and with the grace of god and prayers both she and yourself will remain in remission until old age takes you first! She still complains of some slight tingling from the chemo and feels sporadic pains from the radiation and does have to a small degree less control as her "waiting room" was diminished by some colon removal as well. I have turned into her own personal hypochondriac reading up on how sleep, nutrition and reduced stressed can help reduce the chance for recurrance. Yes, she is on a daily low-dose aspirin and vitamin D. A small price to pay to still be here. I know that I will have to screen earlier than most and knowing what I now know, how preventable this particular disease is, will get it done when reccommended. If only she hadn't learned the hard way. All the best..

      Robbie S.

      March 17, 2014 at 15:12 | Report abuse |
    • Paul

      Dear NTKT,

      Glad to hear the article. It really encourages me as my brother (36) is going thru CC for the past 4 yrs. He went thru lot of chemos, radiation and still fighting. God bless you to be free of Cancer.

      March 17, 2014 at 17:57 | Report abuse |
  10. bherbener

    I followed the protocol for getting the screening done after 50. My last screen was in 2011 during which time the doctor indicated everything was fine. In 2013 I had symptoms that I had to insist on a second screening even though it was not due for several years. At the time this screening was performed I was again informed that everything was clear. Three days later I was told everything was wrong and I now suffer with Stage IV colon cancer. Screening – I'm not impressed. I never smoked, maintain an excellent lifestyle and weight and worked out regularly, . I have had surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and once again chemotherapy. Life has been awful, so much for screening saving lives.

    March 17, 2014 at 15:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. namedujour

    As I understand it, colon cancer is the ONLY completely preventable cancer. It takes years and years to develop, so a colonoscopy at any point puts you in the clear. The sad part – and I know of two people like this – are the ones who get colon cancer before they turn 50, when you begin to think about getting the exam. They'd apparently unknowingly had the polyps and been developing it since their twenties and had no idea – would you???

    So, an early exam never hurts. It's totally painless, and you're good for another 10 years before you need to go back for another. Otherwise, it's a slow and grueling death – an unncessary one.

    March 17, 2014 at 17:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • bherbener

      Preventable, really I did everything according to medical recommendations and yet I have stage IV after 2 screenings in two years. Thanks for letting me know my remaining life will be slow and grueling now I feel better. I followed all recommendations and yet here I am. The exams did not hurt but the shocking results and remarks such as this do. Clearly this test Does not put everyone in the clear, doctors and tests are not full proof.

      March 17, 2014 at 18:52 | Report abuse |
  12. neill

    My brother, may his soul RIP, was a comedian, and had a great joke about the colonoscopy test. He turned around to the doctor and told him "Hey, I've been thinking....we know each other well enough, you don't have to put on the glove."

    :)

    March 17, 2014 at 20:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. S. Kimmel

    A virtual colonoscopy is NOT painless!

    March 17, 2014 at 21:59 | Report abuse | Reply
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