U.S. adults are still behind on routine cancer screenings—reasons why vary by race

Updated on April 10, 2024

Are you up to date on your routine cancer screenings? According to the Prevent Cancer Foundation’s 2024 Early Detection Survey, the answer is: probably not. The survey revealed that nearly seven in 10 U.S. adults are behind on at least one routine cancer screening.1

The second annual survey, released during National Cancer Prevention and Early Detection Month in April, indicates more U.S. adults are behind on routine cancer screenings compared to last year. Survey participants cited their top reasons for not being up to date, including not knowing they need to be screened (43%), not having a family history of the disease (38%) and not having any symptoms (33%).

All these reasons reflect a need for greater education and awareness around routine cancer screenings, which should be given to people of average risk, regardless of whether they are experiencing any signs or symptoms. Family history, in particular, seems to be a great source of confusion around screening. 

“Most cancers occur in people with no family history of disease. In fact, only about 5% to 10% of all cancers are hereditary,” said Heather Mackey, Senior Director of Cancer Prevention and Early Detection at the Prevent Cancer Foundation. “While it is important to know your family history so you can discuss screening initiation, intervals and frequency with your healthcare provider, everyone needs to get their routine screenings, with or without a family history of cancer.”

One of the top reasons for being behind on screenings—simply that people didn’t know they needed to be screened—was the same across nearly all survey participants, regardless of age, sex or race/ethnicity. Other common reasons varied among different racial and ethnic groups in the U.S.:

  • Hispanic and Latino adults most often indicated an inability to afford the cost (34%) or fear of a cancer diagnosis (29%) as top reasons for not being up to date on screenings.
  • Black or African American adults most often indicated skepticism of the health care system (15%) or not having child care (10%) as top reasons for not being up to date on screenings.
  • Asian adults most often indicated nervousness about the screening examination (30%) or worry over contracting a contagious illness (18%) as top reasons for not being up to date on screenings.
  • White adults most often indicated not having any symptoms as a top reason for not being up to date on screenings (36%). 

These reasons paint a more detailed picture of how different barriers can affect whether someone receives care—and the consequences are alarming. Across all populations, these barriers make it more difficult to achieve better health outcomes. When cancer is detected early, it can lead to less extensive treatment, more treatment options and better chances of survival.

Despite these differences, there is a consensus among U.S. adults about what will make them more likely to schedule their routine doctor’s appointment or cancer screening: 

  • More than half (53%) of participants reported that text, phone call or email reminders would make them more likely to schedule their appointments.
  • Thirty-eight percent (38%) of participants said the ability to schedule online or through an app would make them more likely to schedule. This answer was most popular among Gen Z adults and Millennials, with nearly half (47%) saying they would be more likely to schedule their appointments with this as an option.2

Early Detection = Better Outcomes. It is crucial to advocate for your health and talk to your health care provider about the routine cancer screenings you need. The Prevent Cancer Foundation is empowering people to have these conversations by providing resources for patients, such as info on the screenings you need at every age, listings for free and low-cost cancer screenings and a tool to create your own personalized screening plan.

“We see the benefits of early detection in our work every day, but we have an obligation to make sure the people see and understand these benefits, too,” said Jody Hoyos, CEO of the Prevent Cancer Foundation. “We are reaffirming our commitment to empowering people to stay ahead of cancer through prevention and early detection until all populations can achieve better outcomes—without any barriers to the process.”

For more information on the routine cancer screenings needed at every age, visit  www.preventcancer.org/betteroutcomes.

1The cancer screenings studied in this survey were for breast cancer, cervical cancer, colorectal cancer, oral cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, skin cancer and testicular cancer.

2In this survey, Gen Z is defined as adults ages 21-27 and Millennials are defined as adults ages 28-43.

About the Prevent Cancer Foundation®

The Prevent Cancer Foundation® is the only U.S.-based nonprofit organization solely dedicated to cancer prevention and early detection. Through research, education, outreach and advocacy, we have helped countless people avoid a cancer diagnosis or detect their cancer early enough to be successfully treated. We are driven by a vision of a world where cancer is preventable, detectable and beatable for all.

The Foundation is rising to meet the challenge of reducing cancer deaths by 40% by 2035. To achieve this, we are committed to investing $20 million for innovative technologies to detect cancer early and advance multi-cancer screening, $10 million to expand cancer screening and vaccination access to medically underserved communities, and $10 million to educate the public about screening and vaccination options.

For more information, please visit www.preventcancer.org.

The Editorial Team at Healthcare Business Today is made up of skilled healthcare writers and experts, led by our managing editor, Daniel Casciato, who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We offer readers access to fresh health, medicine, science, and technology developments and the latest in patient news, emphasizing how these developments affect our lives.