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|New Jersey Colorectal Cancer Rates Declining;
Commissioner Urges New Jerseyans to Get Tested for Colorectal Cancer
TRENTON -- New Jersey's colorectal cancer incidence and death rates are down since 1979, Health and Senior Services Commissioner Christine Grant said today.
March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. In recognition of that fact, the Commissioner today released the state's first colorectal cancer report, Colorectal Cancer in New Jersey 1979 - 1997, and urged New Jerseyans to begin regular screening tests, as colorectal cancer remains one of the state's leading causes of cancer death.
"Colorectal cancer screening saves lives - it's as simple as that. Unfortunately, too few people are taking advantage of the life-saving tests that are now available," Grant said. "So if you've turned 50 and have never been screened, now is the time to start."
Colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in men and women in New Jersey, and the third leading cause of cancer death. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than a third of all colorectal cancer deaths could be prevented through regular screening, which could mean hundreds of lives saved in the state each year.
"The good news is this is a cancer we can do something about. Screening tests allow physicians to spot precancerous polyps and remove them before they become cancerous," said Dr. Eddy Bresnitz, state epidemiologist and assistant commissioner. "This is one of the few cancers where testing can prevent disease as well as diagnose cancers early when treatment is most effective."
According to the report released today, New Jersey's colorectal cancer incidence rate declined more than 17 percent - from 62 cases for every 100,000 residents in 1979 to 51 in 1997. Mortality has also dropped by one-third -- from 27 deaths per 100,000 in 1979 to 18 in 1997. The declines in incidence and mortality mirror national trends.
Increased use of colorectal cancer screening may explain some of the decline in both incidence and mortality. The report notes that the percent of cancers diagnosed in the early stages, when chances of survival are greatest, has increased by 18 percent in New Jersey since 1985. Changes in diet - such as reduced fat, red meat and alcohol consumption - and increased physical activity may also have played a role.
New Jersey's colorectal cancer rates remain higher than those for the nation, the report notes. The reasons are not clear, but may be due to a higher prevalence of known or suspected risk factors. In addition to age, diet and physical activity levels, risk factors include: being overweight, having certain rare hereditary conditions, and having a personal or family history of colorectal polyps and inflammatory bowel disease.
Based on data from the New Jersey State Cancer Registry, the colorectal cancer report analyzes trends by gender, race, age group, stage at diagnosis, and subtype of cancer in different locations in the colon and rectum. According to the report, female colorectal cancer incidence rates are lower than rates for men. However, the risks increase with age for both genders, with the highest incidence rates in those over age 70.
American Cancer Society guidelines recommend a fecal occult blood test every year for men and women over 50, and other procedures - such as flexible sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy - at varying time intervals. Anyone with specific risk factors should begin screening earlier and be screened more often.
As a health objective for the year 2010, the department has said that New Jersey should increase to 65 percent the proportion of state residents age 50 and over who have received a fecal occult blood test in the last year or have had at least one sigmoidoscopy. This goal is outlined in the department's publication Healthy New Jersey 2010: A Health Agenda for the First Decade of the New Millennium.
Using $2.7 million from the state's tobacco settlement, the department last year added colorectal and prostate cancer screening, and expanded breast and cervical cancer screening offered through the New Jersey Cancer Education and Early Detection (CEED) Program. The program targets low-income persons, the uninsured and underinsured, and racial and ethnic minorities.
Since last March, nearly 1,200 people have been screened for colorectal cancer at sites in all 21 counties. The program serves eligible men and women over age 50. The CEED Program also funds community education and outreach on colorectal cancer.
The colorectal cancer report is the latest in a series of cancer reports published by the department. Other reports have focused on breast cancer, prostate cancer, childhood cancer, and cancer among Hispanics. The cancer reports are available on the department's web site, www.state.nj.us/health, or by calling (609) 588-3500.