Unscreened, 50,000 to Die in 2019

Actor and CDC spokesman Terrence Howard lost his mother to colorectal cancer when she was 56 -- the age group that produces the highest rate of new cases. Despite decades of steady gains against the disease, failure by those in their fifties to get screened continues to drive colorectal deaths.
Actor and CDC spokesman Terrence Howard lost his mother to colorectal cancer when she was 56 -- the age group that produces the highest rate of new cases. Despite decades of steady gains against the disease, failure by those in their fifties to get screened continues to drive colorectal deaths.

 

While colorectal cancer screenings have been increasing in recent years – particularly among Medicare patients – less than half of people age 50 to 64 have received the recommended check-up. And Asian- and Hispanic-Americans are at especially high risk, experts said in a recent webcast.   

Colorectal cancer, the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S., is expected to kill more than 50,000 people this year.

The findings were presented in a recent webcast by the non-profit National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable. Supported by dozens of philanthropic trusts, private companies and government agencies – including the CDC, NIH and HRSA – the group seeks to achieve 80 percent screening in patients over age 50 nationwide.

But the goal so far has only been reached among Americans age 65 and older. And those gains have effectively been muted by poor adherence among those in their fifties. Deaths from colorectal cancer among people younger than age 55 increased one percent per year from 2007 and 2016.

Screening prevalence in that cohort, in particular "is quite low," said Stacey Fedewa of the American Cancer Society – even though more than eight out of 10 of those patients are estimated to have some sort of health insurance.

Mew Rattanawatkul of HRSA's Bureau of Primary Health Care noted that HRSA health centers certified as patient-centered medical homes are bucking the trend, but the national average for colorectal cancer screening among the population as a whole was still only about 42 percent. View supporting data HRSA Exit Disclaimer

From left, panelists included  Mew Rattanawatkul (HRSA); CDR Djenaba Joseph, MD (CDC); Stacey Fedewa of the American Cancer Society; and Dr. Mary Barton,  National Committee for Quality Assurance
From left, panelists included  Mew Rattanawatkul (HRSA); CDR Djenaba Joseph, MD (CDC); Stacey Fedewa of the American Cancer Society; and Dr. Mary Barton,  National Committee for Quality Assurance

 

Colorectal cancer almost always develops from precancerous polyps (abnormal growths) in the colon or rectum. Screening tests can find precancerous polyps, so that they can be removed before they turn into cancer.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening beginning at age 50 – as the  vast majority of new cases of colorectal cancer (about 90 percent) occur in people who are 50 or older. Of the nearly 58 million Americans in this population up to age 64, 18.2 million have never been screened, said Dr. Djenaba Joseph of the CDC, including nearly two in five Hispanic-Americans and a third of Asian-Americans, Pacific-Islanders, Alaska Natives and American Indians.

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness MonthDr. Mary Barton of the National Committee for Quality Assurance – formerly of Harvard Medical School and the Agency for Health Research and Quality -- noted that seven commercial health insurers have reported screening rates of 80 percent or greater among their members younger than 65. The impressive rates appeared linked to concerted mail programs and outreach efforts.

"There is innovative thinking going on in these various places," Barton said, "experimentation and trials of new technologies to try to improve their overall screening rates."

Insurers' focus on driving up screening among seniors is paying off: the number of Medicare plans with greater than 80 percent CRC rates has grown from 25 in 2013, to 69 last year.

View the webcastHRSA Exit Disclaimer

Date Last Reviewed:  March 2019