Too Few Americans Getting Screened for Cancer: CDC
Routine checks for breast, prostate, cervical and colon cancer save lives, but screening rates for all but colon cancer have stalled in recent years, U.S. health officials report.
According to the new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, the number of Americans getting recommended cancer screening remains below target levels. This is especially the case for people who don't have health insurance.
"Continued public health efforts are needed to reduce barriers for accessing medical care; increase the number of providers who discuss the harms and benefits of cancer screening with patients, and increase the number of people who receive cancer screenings, particularly among the uninsured and those with no usual source of care," said lead researcher Ingrid Hall. She is an epidemiologist in CDC's division of cancer prevention and control.
Despite the increase in colon cancer screening rates, the use of colon cancer screening still fell below national targets, as did screening for breast and cervical cancer, Hall added.
For the cancer screenings studied, lack of screening was associated with not having a regular source for medical care, not being insured and not having seen a doctor in the past year, Hall said.
In addition, Asians, younger folks, the poor and the less educated were also less likely to get cancer screenings, she noted.
"Appropriate screening, diagnosis, timely follow-up and effective treatment could help to make progress toward reducing society's overall cancer burden and improve health equity in cancer outcomes for all," Hall said.
Among all women included in the study, 81 percent reported having a recent Pap test and 72 percent reported a recent mammogram, the findings showed.
Among women aged 50 to 75, just over 63 percent reported a recent colon cancer screening test, as did 62 percent of men in the same age group.
Only 36 percent of men aged 50 or older said they had recently gotten a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, the researchers reported.
According to the study, the use of Pap tests declined 4 percent from 2000 to 2015, and rates of mammograms declined 3 percent among women who had a regular source of care.
Over the same period, the rate of PSA testing dropped 5 percent, the researchers found.
Meanwhile, colon cancer screening for men and women increased 29 percent between 2000 and 2015.
We know what works, Hall said. Namely, increased awareness of the need for regular and timely screening, continued expansion of insurance coverage and the use of electronic medical records with automatic reminders for patients and physicians.
"In addition, physicians play a key role in talking about the pros and cons of screening with their patients," she explained.
Robert Smith, vice president for cancer screening at the American Cancer Society, said he believes these findings overestimate the number of people being screened.
"We don't have a system of cancer screening that is focused on achieving the highest rate we could achieve," he said.
Often when a doctor recommends a screening test, patients don't follow through, Smith noted.
"For example, if I say you should get a colonoscopy, you might say OK, but have no intention of getting a colonoscopy," he said.
"People will think that because they don't have symptoms, they don't need these tests. They are confused about the purpose of screening. You get screened when you feel fine and don't realize that you have developed a cancer," Smith added.
It's also a mistake to think that you only need to get screened if you have cancer in your family, he warned.
"We are missing opportunities to prevent premature deaths," Smith said.
For the study, CDC researchers used data reported in 2015 by people who participated in the National Health Interview Survey from 2000 through 2015.
The report was published in the July issue of Preventing Chronic Disease.
For more on cancer screening, visit the American Cancer Society.
SOURCES: Ingrid Hall, Ph.D., M.P.H., epidemiologist, division of cancer prevention and control, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Robert Smith, Ph.D., vice president, cancer screening, American Cancer Society; July 26, 2018, Preventing Chronic Disease, online