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According To CDC Too Few Americans Getting Screened for Common Cancers (April 16, 2012)

Federal health officials claim that the number of Americans undergoing breast, cervical and colon cancer screenings continues falling short of national standards. As of 2010, only 72.4 percent of women obtained screening for breast cancer. Health officials suggest that at least 81 percent of women should acquire testing. The target number for cervical testing is 93 percent; however, only 83 percent of women were tested. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that at least 70.5 percent of Americans receive colorectal screening, but only 58.6 percent underwent testing.

Common Cancer Screenings

Pap tests, colonoscopies, and sigmoidoscopies are powerful tools to screen for cancer. Laboratory blood tests can also be used to detect cancer by measuring cancer antigen or tumor markers such as the following:

CA 125 – useful to detect cancers of the bowel or colon
Alpha-Fetoprotein (AFP) – may indicate certain types of cancer including liver, stomach, pancreas, testicles, Hodgkin's disease, lymphoma, brain tumors and renal cell cancer.
CA 27.29 - may indicate breast, colon, liver, lung, pancreatic and ovarian cancer.
CA 19-9 – used to screen for the presence of pancreatic cancer.
Prostate specific antigen (PSA) -high level may indicate a prostate tumor.
Carcinembryonic antigen (CEA) - may be present in elevated levels with colorectal, gastric, pancreatic and lung cancers.

Studies performed by the CDC's Division of Cancer Prevention and Control suggest that citizens belonging to Asian and Hispanic cultures exhibit a greater reluctance to undergo screening. While 78.7 percent of the general population obtained testing for cervical or colorectal cancers, only 46.5 percent of the Hispanic population obtained screening.

Though lower than desired, CDC the reports indicate that breast cancer screening rates between 2000 and 2010 varied only three percent. Cervical cancer screening rates dropped a little over three percent and colorectal cancer screening rates for men and women increased by 58 percent. Screening rates for individuals not having a family physician, or covered by health insurance, typically ranged much lower. Physicians hope that the Affordable Care Act eliminates financial barriers that prevent people from obtaining cancer screening.

Dr. Stephanie Bernik, chief of oncology surgery at New York City's Lenox Hill Hospital, explains that screening and early diagnosis saves lives. Finding and treating cancer during early development usually provides a better outcome for the patient. Physicians suggest that besides financial expense, the differences in screening and treatment methods offered by various health care providers contributes to an overall avoidance of testing. Dr. Bernik believes patients exhibit screening reluctance secondary to a fear of undergoing unnecessary radical treatments. While she admits these situations occur, in the long run, treatment prolongs lives.

Recommendations for Cancer Testing

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force offers various recommendations for cancer screening. Women from the ages of 50 to 74 should acquire mammograms every two years as part of breast cancer screening. Women in the age range of 21 to 65 should undergo Pap tests every three years, which evaluate for the presence of cervical cancer. Some physicians suggest annual Pap tests for women engaged in sexually active lifestyles. Health care providers suggest that men and women aged 50 to 75 have annual fecal occult blood tests, sigmoidoscopies every five years and colonoscopies every decade, which determine the presence of colorectal cancers.

Physicians believe that identifying candidates for cancer testing, encouraging screening tests and continually monitoring patient participation, may improve screening statistics. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers additional information concerning cancer screening on their website: www.cdc.gov/cancer/dcpc/prevention/screening.htm.