16,000 US Lives Saved Due to Colorectal Cancer Screening

Between 2003 and 2007, there were 32,000 fewer deaths from colorectal cancer in the United States. At least half of the drop was due to improved colorectal cancer screening rates according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition, to fewer deaths, 66,000 people didn’t get colorectal cancer at all during the same four years.

The good news is that the percentage of Americans who are up-to-date with colorectal cancer screening is rising steadily. About two-thirds now report an FOBT in the last year or a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy in the past 10 years.

The bad news is that 1 out of 3 people aged 50 to 75 hasn’t been screened.

The CDC conducts telephone surveys every year through the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Systemn (BRFSS) asking people in the United States about key health issues including whether or not they’ve had colorectal cancer screening.

  • In 2002 52.3 percent of BRFSS responders said they had.
  • In 2010 the rate was up to 65.4 percent.

Rates were highest for whites at 66.1% and blacks at 65.8%. Hispanics had the lowest rates at 53.8%.

If screening progress continues and meets the Healthy People 2020 goals, 1,000 more deaths will be prevented every year.

Decreases in colorectal death rates are falling at 3.4 percent a year:

  • 2003: 19.0 deaths per 100,000 Americans
  • 2007: 16.7 deaths per 100,000
  • Healthy People 2020 Goal: 14.5/100,000

It costs $14 billion a year to treat colorectal cancer in the United States, and that is expected to rise to $20 billion by 2020. The lifetime cost of screening one person with guaiac-based FOBT is $71 or $1,397 with colonoscopy.

The most frequent reason people give for not being screened is that their doctor didn’t recommend it. Other barriers include lack of insurance, not knowing that screening decreases risk of colorectal cancer, and fear of the screening test or of finding cancer.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), Vital Signs: Colorectal Cancer Screening, Incidence, and Mortality — United States, 2002–2010, July 8, 2011.

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