WASHINGTON (CBS DC) — Cancer screenings in the US have declined in recent years, and many believe this is due to an ongoing medical debate over the harms and benefits of screenings.

A study from the University of Miami found that most Americans didn’t meet recommended cancer screening goals for most cancers. The exception was colorectal cancer screening — about 54 percent of the general public had colorectal screenings, surpassing the government’s “Healthy People 2010” goal of 50 percent.

“There is a great need for increased cancer prevention efforts in the U.S., especially for screening as it is considered one of the most important preventive behaviors and helps decrease the burden of this disease on society in terms of quality of life, the number of lives lost and insurance costs,” study author Tainya Clarke, a research associate in the department of epidemiology and public health at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, told CBS News.

To see if recommended guidelines were being followed, Clarke’s team analyzed cancer screening among nearly 175,000 Americans who took part in the U.S. National Health Interview Survey between 1997 and 2010.

They looked at cancer screening rates for colorectal, breast, cervical and prostate cancers, comparing the screening rates in the general public to all cancer survivors and a subgroup of more than 7,500 employed cancer survivors.

The researchers speculated that ongoing debates between the United States Preventive Services Task Force, American Cancer Society and others over screening guidelines may cause some Americans to avoid crucial screenings.

The Task Force used to recommend routine mammogram screening for women over 40, which the American Cancer Society still recommends.

In 2009, the panel revised its guidelines to say routine mammography should only occur every two years for women ages 50 to 74. The Task Force stated that the decision to start regular mammograms before age 50 should be an individual one, and take into account a patient’s values regarding specific benefits and harms. They also stated that mammograms can possibly give false alarms which spur biopsies and other tests that show no cancer was present.

The study found that cancer survivors had higher screening rates and underwent the recommended cancer screenings for all types except cervical cancer, which fell to 78 percent over the last decade.

“As Americans, we need to step up to practicing preventive health care, especially for diseases like cancer or anorexia nervosa, where early detection can literally be the difference between life and death,” Clarke told CBS News.

The report was published online Dec. 27 in the journal Frontiers in Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention, and was funded by the National Institutes of Health.


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