Cancer Screening

Utilization rates of cancer screening tests are lower than national target rates.

In the January 27, 2012 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), Carrie N. Klabunde, PhD, and colleagues from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Cancer Institute reported that cancer screening in the US remains lower than national target rates. It is well known that cancer screening can detect some cancers, such as breast, cervical, and colorectal cancer, at their early stages and consequently, reduces cancer morbidity and mortality. Target screening rates for breast cancer (81%), cervical cancer (93%), and colorectal cancer (70%) were established by the US Department of Health and Human Services in its Healthy People 2020 goals.

Analysis of data from the 2010 National Health Interview Survey found that the proportion of the US population screened are 72.4% for breast cancer, 83.0% for cervical cancer, and 58.6% for colorectal cancer. Screening rates for breast cancer have changed little in the past 10 years, whereas rates for cervical cancer have decreased slightly, and rates for colorectal cancer have increased. According to the CDC, 350,000 Americans are diagnosed with breast, cervical, or colorectal cancer each year, and about 100,000 die from these cancers.

The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends that women aged 50-years-old and older have a mammogram to screen for breast cancer every two years. Women 21 to 65-years-old should have a Pap smear performed at least every three years to screen for cervical cancer. Men and women 50 to 75-years-old should have a colonoscopy every 10 years, or an annual fecal occult blood test, or a sigmoidoscopy every five years.

All healthcare providers, regardless of workplace, have a role in educating people about cancer screening. There some confusion among the lay public about what tests to have and their frequency, so healthcare providers can play an instrumental role in ensuring that people obtain the recommended screening tests at the recommended intervals.