Yale Study: Colorectal Cancer Screening Saves Lives

The evidence continues to mount: Colorectal cancer screening saves lives. According to a recently released study by the Yale Cancer Center, widespread screening has resulted in an estimated 550,000 fewer cases of colorectal cancer over the past three decades. That’s more than a half-million people who have avoided hearing the devastating diagnosis: “You have cancer.”

The research team, led by Dr. James Yu, assistant professor of therapeutic radiology at Yale School of Medicine, looked at data covering the period from 1976 to 2009 and found that:

  1. In people over age 50, the incidence of late-stage cancer decreased from 118 cases per 100,000 to 74 cases per 100,000.
  2. In the same age group, the incidence of early-stage cancers declined from 77 to 67 cases per 100,000.
  3. These decreases occurred at a time when cancer screening – including fecal occult blood testing, sigmoidoscopies and colonoscopies – increased from 34.8 percent to 66.1 percent.

After adjusting for trends in cancer incidence, the authors calculated that there was a reduction of 550,000 cancers during this period of increased screening.

Dr. Yu was quoted by Yale News as saying, “Colorectal cancer screening is one of the major successes in cancer care.” I couldn’t agree with him more.

According to the American Cancer Society, the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about one in 20, or 5 percent, and colorectal cancer is the third-leading cause of death in the United States. As the Yale study suggests, you can decrease your chances of being part of those grim statistics by undergoing proper screenings.

Generally, the guidelines recommend that people have their first colonoscopy at age 50 (nine of 10 colon cancer diagnoses are in those 50 or older), and then once every 10 years. Those with higher risk of colorectal cancer may need to begin screening at 40, and the recommended age for African Americans is 45.

Finally, the importance of having a qualified physician perform your colonoscopy cannot be overstated. If you missed our prior post on that subject, I encourage you to spend a few minutes reading that, as well.