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According to a recent article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, men in the United States are more likely to be up-to-date on their screening for prostate cancer than screening for colorectal cancer.

When detected early, colorectal cancer is a highly curable disease. Colorectal cancer typically begins with the development of an adenomatous polyp, which is a small benign tumor that grows in the colon. These polyps often take 10 to 15 years to transform into cancer. Since this development phase is so long, screening and early detection can play a crucial role in the prevention of colorectal cancer, as detection and removal of the polyps can prevent the development of the disease. Furthermore, early detection and treatment of colorectal cancer lead to high cure rates while long-term survival following treatment of advanced disease remains poor. Individuals at an average risk of developing colorectal cancer are advised to begin screening for colorectal cancer at the age of 50, which may involve a fecal occult blood test (FOBT), flexible sigmoidoscopy and/or a colonoscopy.

Men are also advised to initiate screening for prostate cancer at the age of 50 if they are at an average risk of developing the disease. However, it has not been definitively determined that the proposed schedule for screening of prostate cancer, which typically involves measurement of prostate specific antigen (PSA) levels in the blood and a digital rectal exam, is associated with increased survival.

Recently, data compiled from the 2001 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was evaluated regarding the prevalence of screening for prostate cancer and colorectal cancer among men in the U.S. The data included over 49,000 men 40 years or older living in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Of the group of men over the age of 50, 75% had ever been screened for prostate cancer, while only 63% had ever been screened for colorectal cancer. In this age group, 54% of men had an up-to-date prostate screen and only 45% had an up-to-date colorectal screen. Overall in the U.S., 15% to 20% more men between the ages of 50 and 69 had an up-to-date prostate screen than a colorectal screen.

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The researchers concluded that men 50 years or older who are at an average risk for developing colorectal cancer should speak with their physician about the different screening options for colorectal cancer, as these screening procedures can lead to the prevention and/or early treatment of this disease.

Reference: Sirovich B, Schwartz L, Woloshin S.

Journal of the American Medical Association. 2003;289:1414-1420.