I am overdue for a colonoscopy. I’ve been meaning to schedule one for over a year but when the time comes to do so I put it off because it’s not the most pleasant procedure to endure. Colonoscopies for colorectal cancer are one of the few cancer screenings recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, the others are breast, cervical and lung cancer. However, I just read that only 14.1% of cancers are caught through screening. According to WebMD:
Instead, most cancers are found when someone seeks medical attention for something else, according to the information posted by the nonprofit research organization NORC at the University of Chicago.
This percentage of cancers found through screening varies by state. In Louisiana and Arkansas only 12% of cancers are found by screening. In Arizona 16.8% of cancers are caught by screening, the highest of any state. Of recommended screenings, the following are the proportion of cancers found by screening in the U.S.
- 61% of breast cancers
- 52% of cervical cancers
- 45% of colorectal cancers
- 3% of lung cancers
According to the report, 77% of prostate cancers are found through screenings, although prostate cancer screening is not widely recommended. Most prostate cancers are slow growing. Men with prostate cancer tend to die with it rather than from it. There are some aggressive, fast growing prostate cancers, but they’re relatively rare. According to the report:
Regular screening is recommended for breast, cervical, and colorectal cancers, as well as lung cancer screening for people who are at a high risk. Together, in 2017, these cancers made up 29% of all diagnosed cancers and 25% of all cancer deaths in the US. Though not broadly recommended, prostatespecific antigen (PSA) tests can also screen for prostate cancer, which accounts for another 14% of all cancers in the US. The other 57% of cancers do not have recommended screening tests and account for 70% of cancer deaths in the US.
The report is not suggesting cancer screening has no value. On the contrary, if more people got screened more cancers would be detected early. Cancer screenings have fallen during the past few years, due to Covid.
Improved cancer screening has the potential to detect cancers earlier, when treatment is more likely to improve outcomes and save lives. However, at present, only 14% of diagnosed cancers are detected by screening with a recommended screening test.
Read the full report: State-Specific PCDSs chart 1213.pdf (norc.org)