Los Angeles….Millions of people have endured a colonoscopy, believing the dreaded exam may help keep them from dying of colon cancer. For the first time, a major study offers clear evidence that it does.
Removing precancerous growths spotted during the test can cut the risk of dying from colon cancer in half, the study suggests. Doctors have long assumed a benefit, but research hasn't shown before that removing polyps would improve survival. Some people skip the test because of the unpleasant steps needed to get ready for it.
"Sure, it's a pain in the neck. People complain to me all the time," said Dr. Sidney Winawer, a gastroenterologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering "Cancer Center in New York who helped lead the study. "But look at the alternative."
A second study in Europe found that colonoscopies did a better job of finding polyps than another common screening tool—tests that look for blood in stool. Both studies were published in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine.
Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. and the fourth worldwide. Deaths from colorectal cancer are on the decline, mostly because of screening.
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States and the fourth worldwide. More than 143,000 new cases of cancers of the colon or rectum are expected in the U.S. this year and nearly 52,000 people will die from it, according to the American Cancer Society.
For a colonoscopy, a thin, flexible tube with a tiny camera is guided through the large intestine. Patients are sedated, but many dread the test because it requires patients to eat a modified diet and drink solutions the day before. It typically costs more than $1,000.
A government-appointed panel of experts recommends one of three methods: annual stool blood tests; a sigmoidoscopy (scope exam of the lower bowel) every five years, plus stool tests every three years; or a colonoscopy once a decade.
Alicia Chang (AP)