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Colon Cancer Cases Drop

While new options are available, colonoscopy screening remains the gold standard

Still Not Screened for Colon Cancer? 9 Reasons to Jump on it Now

Help reduce your chances of getting colon cancer by getting screened. — Istock

En español l New statistics from the American Cancer Society show a remarkable 30 percent drop in colorectal cancer cases in the past decade, plus steep declines in the yearly cases among those age 65 and older — mostly due to more people getting screened through colonoscopies or other recommended tests.

"We were surprised by the magnitude of the rate decline in just one decade," lead researcher Rebecca Siegel, director of surveillance research for the cancer society, told AARP. The numbers were released at a press conference in Washington, D.C.

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Colon cancer deaths have also dropped more rapidly within the past decade, the new study showed. Deaths decreased among both men and women in nearly every major racial group from 2001 to 2010, with the biggest declines among non-Hispanic whites and black women.

These dramatic declines are due to an equally dramatic increase in people getting screened for colon cancer. In 2000, only 19 percent of adults ages 50 to 75 had been screened. That jumped to 65 percent as of last November, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But that still means that about 1 in 3 adults has not been screened. And the cancer society estimates that this year there will be nearly 137,000 new cases of colorectal cancer and more than 50,000 deaths.

"That's why we have started a national push to achieve an 80 percent screening rate by 2018," Richard C. Wender, M.D., chief cancer control officer for the cancer society, said in an interview.

Some 40 percent of colorectal cancer cases could be prevented if people underwent regular colonoscopy screening, according to a large, long-term study released last year by the Harvard School of Public Health. Regular screening also means that the cancer can be caught early, when the five-year survival rate is 90 percent. The more advanced the cancer, the lower the survival rate.

The colonoscopy is considered the gold standard for detecting either cancer or precancerous polyps that can be snipped off before they cause problems. To view these potential trouble spots, the doctor inserts a thin, flexible tube with a tiny camera into the colon. Unfortunately, the only way a doctor can get a clear picture is if the colon has been cleansed using laxatives the day before — admittedly the biggest downside to the procedure.

Wender agrees that the laxative prep is "annoying."

"But it's not painful. And the colonoscopy itself is always accompanied by medication that makes it comfortable and pain-free," he added.

He also says there are other screening options. If you're at average risk — meaning no family history of colon cancer and no personal history of polyps or inflammatory bowel disease — there are some alternatives to having a colonoscopy every 10 years.

Next page: What you need to know about colorectal screening. »

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