Millions of Americans not getting screened for common cancers

(NBC) - Progress is being made but there's still more to be done. That's the key point coming out of a new report from the CDC on colon and breast cancer screening.

Four out of five older women were screened for breast cancer in 2008. A big number experts say but it means roughly seven million women missed their mammogram.

Katherine Lee, M.D., a breast surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic, says "some women are just fearful. They're afraid to find breast cancer, they're afraid of the ramifications of finding breast cancer."

But there's better news for another leading cancer killer: the report found screening tests for colon cancer went up 11% over six years.

Experts say every adult over age 50 should be screened.

Dr. Lee says "if you get it before it's even a cancer, you can remove that polyp and not have to deal with a full blown cancer diagnosis and all the treatments that go along with that."

Despite the progress made with colon cancer screening, 22 million adults who doctors say should have been tested were not.

Experts say skipped screenings are costing thousands of lives every year.

Dr. Lee says "we're seeing more late stage disease. Meaning that, people will be having treatments for cancer, and maybe some of these treatments for cancer will be too little too late."

The reasons patients are not undergoing the tests range from a lack of information from their doctor, to a lack of insurance.

Dr. Lee says "if you only have a limited amount of funds to pay for certain preventative measures you're not going to be choosing everything, you're going to be very selective."

But the take home message is clear: more Americans are taking a proactive instead of reactive approach to their health which doctors say is the best prescription.

The report also found race, education level and income negatively affect testing for breast and colon cancer, with African-Americans, Hispanics, and people without a high school diploma having the lowest screening rates.