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Yale Study: Screening Has Prevented Half a Million Colorectal Cancers

Findings counter controversy surrounding mammograms for breast cancer, authors say

An estimated half a million cancers were prevented by colorectal cancer screening in the U.S. from 1976 to 2009, according to a report from the Cancer Outcomes, Public Policy, and Effectiveness Research Center at Yale Cancer Center. The study appears in the journal Cancer.

During this time span of more than 30 years, as increasing numbers of men and women underwent cancer screening tests — including fecal occult blood testing, sigmoidoscopies, and colonoscopies — colorectal cancer rates declined significantly, the researchers found.

The Yale team studied colorectal cancer incidence data from the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results database, along with its Cancer Trends Progress Report.

The researchers found that the incidence of late-stage cancer decreased from 118 to 74 cases per 100,000 people over the age of 50. They also found that the incidence of early-stage cancers declined from 77 to 67 cases per 100,000 people over the age of 50 during a period in which cancer screening increased from 35% to 66%. 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.

“These numbers represent real patients and families who have been spared the trauma of a cancer diagnosis and treatment,” said senior author Dr. James Yu. “Colorectal cancer screening is one of the major successes in cancer care.”

The new findings are particularly significant in light of recent controversy surrounding mammography screening for breast cancer, and suggestions that it might result in false positive diagnoses and overtreatment, the researchers noted.

“The efficacy of colorectal cancer screening is important to highlight, especially at a time when there has been a national discussion about screening for other types of cancer,” said co-author Dr. Cary Gross.

Source: Yale University; June 3, 2014.

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