Colonoscopy cuts colon cancer risk in half, study finds


A colonoscopy to detect growths that may lead to colon cancer cuts a person's overall risk in half, a new study has confirmed.

According to the Associated Press, some people skip the rectal screening test — which examines the inside of the intestine with a camera-tipped tube — owing to its unpleasantness.

"Sure, it's a pain in the neck. People complain to me all the time, 'It's horrible. It's terrible,'" Dr. Sidney Winawer, a gastroenterologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York who helped lead the study, told the AP. "But look at the alternative."

The 23-year study published in the New England Journal of Medicine has confirmed that removing precancerous polyps, known as adenomas, during a colonoscopy can reduce the risk of death from colorectal cancer by half, Reuters reported.

Colorectal cancer is the third-most-common cancer worldwide. One in 20 Americans will develop the cancer, while 140,000 cases are diagnosed in the US each year, resulting in about 49,000 deaths, Reuters cites the National Cancer Institute figures as showing.

This year, more than 143,000 new cases and 51,000 deaths are expected, according to the New York Times. However, the number of new cases and death rates have been declining for about 20 years, most likely due to the increased use of screening tests and timely treatment.

"For any cancer screening test, reduction of cancer-related mortality is the holy grail," Dr. Gina Vaccaro, a gastrointestinal oncologist at the Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health and Science University who was not involved in the research, told the Times. "This study does show that mortality is reduced if polyps are removed, and 53 percent is a very robust reduction."

Meanwhile, a separate study in the New England Journal of Medicine had suggested that a cheaper, less invasive test might be just as effective as a colonoscopy, Reuters wrote.

It reported on the COLONPREV study being conducted in Spain that was comparing 10-year death rates in two groups: volunteers who received a one-time colonoscopy and volunteers being screened every two years using fecal immunochemical testing (FIT), a form of blood stool testing. A positive FIT test led to a colonoscopy.

After the first round of testing, colorectal cancer was found in 30 people in the 26,703-member colonoscopy group and 33 in the 26,599-person FIT group, researchers reported.

Chief author of the Spanish study, Enrique Quintero of Hospital Universitario de Canarias, told Reuters that it was encouraging that the cheaper fecal test "detected half the advanced adenomas just in the first round."

He predicted that the next round of FIT tests would uncover more growths.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.