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Screenable cancers on the rise, colorectal cancer leads cancer deaths in younger Americans

02 February, 2024

In January, the American Cancer Society released its annual Cancer Facts & Figures, a report that compiles the most recent cancer incidence and mortality data to show how cancer is impacting the nation and each state. The data show that four screenable cancers—breast, prostate, colorectal, and cervical—are on the rise. Other types of cancers are also increasing in incidence, including melanoma, lung, endometrial, pancreatic, kidney, bladder, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

ACS officials said that although cancer deaths have been declining, the increase of diagnoses of six of the most common cancers threatens this longstanding trend. “Put simply, that’s because when more people are diagnosed with cancer, more people are likely to die because of cancer.”

Cancer risk increases with age. However, using the data ACS researchers found that colorectal cancer diagnoses are increasing in people younger than 50. It is now the leading cause of cancer death among men younger than 50 and the second cause in women under 50.

Cervical cancer is also increasing in incidence among women ages 30-44. Those who were among the first to have received the HPV vaccine, now ages 20-24, have seen a decline in incidence of cervical cancers.

What if colorectal and cervical cancer screening rates increased?

Researchers at the National Cancer Institute also recently conducted a study where they used data modeling to project the impacts of a 10% increase in cancer screening. While increases in screening rates for lung, breast, colorectal, and cervical cancers would reduce cancer deaths, they didn’t all have equal impact.

A 10% increase in lung and breast cancer screening would result in a 1% and 4% reduction in those cancers, respectively. However, a 10% increase in colorectal cancer would result in 21% fewer colorectal cancer deaths. The same increase in screening would result in a 40% reduction in cervical cancer deaths.

Researchers said they were initially surprised, but when considering the nature of colorectal and cervical cancer screenings, it makes sense. Both of those screenings can not only find cancers early, but they can prevent cancers as well by removing pre-cancerous polyps and cells.

One thing NCI researchers added was that targeting increases in screening among those at highest risk of cancer death would make the greatest impact and help to reduce disparities.

Read the NCI study here.