1 in 3 don’t get potentially life-saving screening for colon cancer, second leading cause of cancer death in Ky. and U.S.

Federal officials said Tuesday that although detecting colon cancer early saves lives, only about two-thirds of Americans aged 50 to 75 have undergone recommended screening.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that men and women 50 and older get screened for colon caner, which is about 23 million Americans. However, only 28 percent of people who should be screened have ever done so and about 7 percent of people have received but are not up-to-date with their screening, says the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer mortality in Kentucky and nationwide, and it affects men and women of all ethnicities. Kentuckians have a higher than average risk of colon cancer due to higher rates of obesity, diets high in fat, and lack of regular exercise.

“Despite research that shows colorectal cancer screening saves lives, screening rates remain far too low,” CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said during a noon press briefing Tuesday.

“Colon cancer is the second-leading cancer killer for both men and women. In fact, it’s the leading killer of nonsmokers in this country, killing about 50,000 people a year,” he said. The CDC report was published online Nov. 5 in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The number one reason people aren’t being screened is because their doctor didn’t recommend it, Frieden said, and the CDC is encouraging doctors to talk with their patients about screening. Certain preventive screening tests may be free under the Affordable Care Act, but be sure to check your individual policy.

“It is also important that individuals learn about testing options and get the test that’s right for them,” Frieden said. “But, we also know that not having health insurance greatly reduces the likelihood that someone will get tested and that’s why increasing coverage is another way of saving lives.”

MedLine Plus reports that several screening options can be used alone or in combination, including the following:

Fecal occult blood test or fecal immunochemical test every year. These tests can be done at home; Flexible sigmoidoscopy, done every five years, with home fecal tests done every three years; Colonoscopy done every 10 years.

All these tests are effective and one is not necessarily better than another, Frieden said.  The CDC says that as many as 60 percent of deaths from colorectal cancer could be prevented if everyone age 50 and older were screened regularly.

“The best test is the one that gets done,” he said.

For some people, however, colonoscopy may be the best option, Frieden said. “These are people with a strong family history of colon cancer or an intestinal condition such as inflammatory bowel disease, or people who have had polyps removed in the past. But for everyone else, and that’s the majority of people, there is no proven benefit to one versus another,” Frieden said.

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