Colon cancer testing is leveling off in the United States, according to a federal report.
The survey was conducted last year and shows that about two-thirds of American adults between 50-75 years of age have had colorectal cancer screenings, but millions don’t.
This is the same percentage of colon cancer testings that took place in 2010, which would be the first time we don’t see an increase in screenings.
Dr. Marcus Plescia of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said of the report released on Tuesday, “Even the hint of a leveling off is very concerning.”
The government agency has no explanation for the lower testings, since screenings have steadily increased from 54 percent in 2002 to 65 percent in 2010.
Many attribute the increase in testings in recent years on the “Katie Couric effect”.
The former Today Show host lost her husband to colon cancer and later, in an effort to bring awareness to the importance of screening, had a colonoscopy on live television.
Colonoscopies are the most common testing adults over 50 undergo to determine if there is colon cancer, however, the tests can be uncomfortable, costly, and require a day of preparation, which result in people missing work.
The procedure consists of using a flexible tube with which doctors remove polyps before they become cancerous.
The colonoscopy is the less invasive of the three options people have to get tested for colon cancer.
The study found that around 23 million Americans are not getting tested for the potentially deadly disease, which puts them at risk for this preventable form of cancer. Colon cancer incidences in the US have been dropping for more than 20 years.
Results also show that where people live affects whether they get screened or not. Massachusetts ranks highest with 76.3 percent of adults getting colonoscopies, while 55.7 percent do in Arkansas.
“We’re delighted to see a big increase in colonoscopy screenings in recent years… but there are effective options in addition to colonoscopy,” says CDC Director Thomas Frieden. “We encourage health care providers to talk to their patients about getting tested and about the choice of tests. The best test is the test that gets done.”
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer among men and women in the US, after lung cancer, and the leading killer among men and women who don’t smoke, according to the CDC.
More than 50,000 people will die from colorectal cancer each year. The disease is the leading killer among non-smokers in the country, Frieden says.
Screening tests can prevent or detect cancer at an early stage, when treatments can be very effective.
According to the CDC, the primary reasons that people say they don’t get tested for colon cancer, is that their physician never told them about it or they didn’t know they needed to be screened.