Only 42 Percent of Vermonters Age 50+ Get Life-Saving Screening for Colorectal Cancer

For Immediate Release: March 25, 2002
Contact: Linda Dorey

BURLINGTON, VT - Regular screening tests for people age 50 and older can actually prevent colorectal cancer by removing abnormal growths (polyps) before they turn cancerous or by finding cancer early when treatment is most effective.

Many people do not take advantage of these tests, despite evidence that at least one-third of all deaths due to colorectal cancer could be prevented.

“Right now, colorectal cancer is a leading killer in Vermont, yet if it’s found and treated early, 90 percent of people survive,” said Dr. Jan Carney, Vermont health commissioner.

In Vermont, colorectal cancer—cancer of the colon and rectum—is the second leading cause of cancer death after lung cancer for men and women combined. Each year, approximately 339 new cases are diagnosed and 143 people die from colorectal cancer. More people die from colorectal cancer than from breast cancer or prostate cancer.

This month, the Vermont Department of Health and Vermont Colorectal Cancer Coalition are joining national groups in issuing the Colorectal Cancer Prevention Challenge.

“We are challenging Vermonters to talk with their physician about screening,” said Carney. “It is vitally important that people age 50 and older get regular colorectal screening. Screening saves lives.”

The Cancer Research Foundation of America recently reported that fewer than 52 percent of Americans age 50 and over had been told by their health care provider to get a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy. However, when advised to get one of these screening tests by a health care provider, more than 90 percent of patients complied.

According to most recent Health Department statistics [1999], 42 percent of Vermonters age 50+ ever had a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy to screen for precancerous polyps or colorectal cancer, and 30 percent had a fecal occult blood test (FOBT) in the past year—a chemical test for blood in a stool sample. The Healthy Vermonters 2010 goal for colorectal cancer screening is to have at least 50 percent of adults age 50 and older getting regular screening.

In the United States, an estimated 90 million Americans are at risk for developing colorectal cancer. A major risk factor is age, with people age 50 and older considered at risk. This is why routine screening of all men and women age 50 and older is recommended.