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Screening Saves Lives

An increase in screening for colorectal cancer in Kentucky has led to a significant decline in deaths from the disease, according to a recent analysis from the Kentucky Cancer Registry.

In 2001, it was discovered that only 34.7 percent of people age 50 or older in Kentucky had ever had a screening sigmoidoscopy or a colonoscopy. This rate put Kentucky last among the 50 states.

By 2008, that number had nearly doubled, to 63.7 percent, bringing Kentucky from 50th place to 23rd. The incidence of colorectal cancer in Kentucky decreased more than 16 percent, from 68.5 cases per 100,000 people in 2001 to 57.1 cases per 100,000 in 2006. Deaths also declined about 16 percent, from 22.4 deaths per 100,000 in 2001 to 18.9 deaths per 100,000 in 2006.

“This is an enormous public health success story,” says Thomas C. Tucker, associate director for cancer control at the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center and director of the Kentucky Cancer Registry. “However, much remains to be done. More than one-third of Kentuckians over 50 are still not getting the recommended screenings.”

Each year, about 2,700 new cases of colorectal cancer are diagnosed statewide, and about 850 Kentuckians die from the disease.

For people 50 or older, screening can prevent the disease by finding precancerous polyps and removing them before they become cancer. Screening can also reduce deaths by finding the disease at an early stage, when treatments are most effective.


In 2002, a coalition of public and private organizations was brought together through the Kentucky Cancer Consortium. These groups worked to initiate colorectal-cancer screening programs and to get legislation passed to increase the availability of screening.

The consortium includes representatives from the American Cancer Society, the Kentucky Department for Public Health, the Kentucky Cancer Programs of the Markey Cancer Center and the Brown Cancer Center, the Colon Cancer Prevention Project, and many others.

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