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Colon Cancer Rates Down Since 1980

Colon cancer, which was once the most common cause of cancer death in America, has been on a steady decline for decades, according to a new study in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

In 1985, there were an estimated 66.3 cases of colon cancer for every 100,000 adults in the United States. By 2010 that rate had fallen to 40.6 cases for every 100,000 adults. Deaths dropped during the same time period as well - from 28.5 to 15.5 deaths per 100,000 people.

"Incidence is declining primarily because of screening and finding polyps, which are precancerous lesions that can be removed," said Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society. "We find these precancerous lesions, remove them and 'voilà!' the patient doesn't get cancer."

The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force and the American Cancer Society recommend regular colon cancer screening beginning at age 50.

"Colorectal cancer screening is only being done right now by about 55% of people over the age of 50," Brawley said. "That's one of the reasons why the federal government and the American Cancer Society and other organizations are really trying to push 80% by 2018.

"We actually have data that suggests this could save 15,000 to 20,000 lives a year."

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 Last Modified 9/25/14