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U.S. Cancer Screening Rates Dropping: Study

HealthDay News

Confusing guidelines, insurance gaps may discourage people from getting recommended testing

THURSDAY, Dec. 27 (HealthDay News) -- The number of Americans seeking cancer screening has declined over the past decade, a new study finds, with less than optimal levels for most types of cancer.

Disagreements among the groups that set screening recommendations, including the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and American Cancer Society, along with rising numbers of uninsured people, may be influencing the decline in screening rates, the researchers said.

Common screening tests include mammograms for breast cancer, Pap tests for cervical cancer, sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy for colon and rectal cancers, and prostate-specific antigen blood tests for prostate cancer.

"As Americans, we need to step up to practicing preventive health care, especially for diseases like cancer, where early detection can literally be the difference between life and death," said lead study author Tainya Clarke, a research associate in epidemiology and public health at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

A large percentage of the general public is still at risk of late stage cancer diagnoses, she said. "The saying 'early detection saves lives' is not just a catch phrase," she said. "Adhering to the screening recommendations of the various governing bodies can improve prognosis and lead to increased treatment options for people who are diagnosed."

The report was published online Dec. 27 in the journal Frontiers in Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention..

To see if recommended guidelines were being followed, Clarke's team analyzed cancer screening among nearly 175,000 Americans who took part in the U.S. National Health Interview Survey between 1997 and 2010.

Specifically, they looked at cancer screening rates for colorectal, breast, cervical and prostate cancers, comparing the screening rates in the general public to all cancer survivors and a subgroup of more than 7,500 employed cancer survivors.