CDC: Colon cancer screening numbers too low

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning that about one out of every three adults between the ages of 50 and 75 years old is not getting screened for colorectal cancer (CRC) as recommended.

In its November Vital Signs report, the CDC estimates that 23 million adults between 50 and 75 have never been tested, and that those least likely to get tested are Hispanics, those ages 50 to 64, American Indian or Alaska natives, those who don't live in a city, and people with lower education and income. What is particularly interesting is that two out of three adults who haven't been tested for colorectal cancer have regular doctors and are covered by insurance that could pay for the tests.

One of the problems, according to the report, is that many people remain unaware that screening guidelines call for individuals over the age of 50 to get one of three colorectal cancer screening tests (colonoscopy, stool tests, or sigmoidoscopy), and that they aren't being notified when it is time for them to be tested.

While most healthcare systems rely on doctors to inform patients about CRC screening, the CDC suggests that nurses and other office staff should also be involved in the process, and that doctors should be reminded to talk about or offer CRC testing to patients when they come in for regular check-ups or sick visits.

The CDC also suggests that doctors, nurses and health systems:

  • Offer recommended test options, with advice about each
  • Match patients with the test they are most likely to complete
  • Use patient reminder systems to notify patients when it's time to get a screening test done
  • Make sure patients get their results quickly. If the test is not normal make sure they get the follow–up care they need
  • Use patient navigators to help patients get checked.

In a media briefing recapping the Vital Signs report, CDC Director Tom Frieden said that medical establishment in the U.S. needs to find a way to increase the number of people getting tested.

"The bottom line is, the best test is the test that gets done," he said. "We want adults age 50 and older to get screened for colon cancer because that saves lives."

To learn more:
- see the Vital Signs report
- check out the CDC media briefing

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