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CDC To Track Prevention Progress with Monthly ’Vital Signs’

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, July 6, 2010

Although the percentage of Americans who receive recommended breast and colon cancer screening has risen, millions are not getting the tests that could save thousands of lives, officials for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said today in the first in a monthly series of reports called “CDC Vital Signs.“

One in three people in the U.S. has not been screened for colon cancer, or 22 million people, and 19% of women between the ages of 50 to 74, or 7 million women, have not had a mammogram in the last two years, Thomas Frieden, MD, CDC director, said in a news briefing last week.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. and the leading cause of cancer death among non-smokers, yet 32,000 lives could be saved if every adult 50 years of age and older got tested regularly for colorectal cancer. Frieden added that about 12,000 lives are saved each year as a result of mammography.

Having health insurance coverage seemed to make significant differences in whether people got recommended screening. For example, 65.7% of people surveyed who had insurance had received a fecal occult blood test within the last year or a lower endoscopy within the last 10 years, compared with 35.6% who did not have health insurance.

Likewise for mammography, 83.8% of women who had health insurance received recommended screening mammogram, versus 56.3% of women who did not have health insurance.

Frieden says much more progress could be made if health payers would reorganize their coverage, for example, exempting beneficiaries from having to make co-payments for those tests.

Frieden and Marcus Plescia, MD, Director of the CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control said during the briefing that understanding the reasons behind the wide geographic variation in screening is a public health target. For example, the highest colorectal cancer screening prevalence of 74% was noted in northeastern states Maine, Delaware, and Massachusetts, but the lowest were in central states, such as Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Idaho, 53% or 54%.

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