The CDC recommends three types of screening for colorectal cancer, including:
* Yearly fecal occult blood test - Labs test tiny stool samples for blood.
* Sigmoidoscopy - A doctor examines the colon's lower portion every five years.
* Colonoscopy - A doctor investigates the entire colon once a decade.
Doctors recommend regular colorectal screenings for 100 percent of adults between 50 and 75.
* Alabama - 65.4%
* Georgia - 67.4%
* Tennessee - 61.2%
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Rates have dropped for the leading cancer killer among nonsmokers, but 22 million older Americans aren't getting their rears in gear for colorectal screenings.
That was the good news-bad news pushed Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the agency's top official announced an encouraging report - colorectal screenings prevented 66,000 cancers and 32,000 deaths - and lamented what's been lost.
"The tragic deaths from colon cancer deprive our society of productivity that could be accrued by those people," CDC Director Thomas Frieden told reporters in a conference call.
He added that $288,468 in productivity was lost per colorectal cancer death in 2008.
About 61 percent of Tennesseans between ages 50 and 75 were screened, and colorectal cancer deaths declined 1.4 percent statewide between 2003 and 2007, the CDC reported. Still, colorectal cancer was the third-most deadly cancer in Tennessee in 2008, killing 1,237 people, according to the state Department of Health.
Screenings make it possible to identify precancerous polyps before they become lethal. Frieden got personal during the call, saying his doctor found four colorectal polyps - "two of them large, all of them removed" - after a routine screening a few months ago.
"If I hadn't had a colon cancer screening, I could well be dead in another 10 or 15 years," said Frieden, 50.
Rebekah Corey, a nurse practitioner at Digestive Care and Management in Chattanooga, said patients often are "embarrassed" to talk about digestive habits and bowel movements, but she said regular screenings are worth it.
Besides, they usually are done while the patient is sedated and they don't take long.
She said most polyps take a decade before they become cancerous.
"It's very slow-growing - that's why it's such a preventable cancer," she said.
The CDC study showed American colorectal cancer mortality levels dropped 3 percent, while incidence rates fell 3.4 percent, the CDC said.
Colorectal cancer deaths dropped in every state except Mississippi, where rates stayed the same, according to the report.
"There are other reasons that people ... may die from colon cancer," said Dr. Lisa Richardson, a CDC researcher. "A wealthy state may have more access [to health care] than another."