Colon Cancer Screenings Work, Twin Studies Report
According to the ACP, most adults should get screened for colon cancer beginning at age 50. People with a family history of colon cancer and others considered high-risk should get screened starting at age 40, or 10 years younger than the age of when your youngest family member was diagnosed with colon cancer. Other risk factors for colon cancer include age, race – African Americans have highest rates in U.S. – history of polyps or inflammatory bowel disease. A colonoscopy is considered the “gold standard” of screening tools, according to the College. During the 30-minute procedure, a thin, flexible tube with a tiny camera is guided through the large intestine to look for precancerous growths called polyps so they can be removed before they turn into cancer. The new guidance recommends people should get a colonoscopy once every 10 years. For those who want other options, there is a stool blood test the College recommends people get annually, or a flexible sigmoidoscopy – a thin camera tube that’s inserted that looks at the lower parts of the colon – that people should get every five years. “We encourage patients to engage in shared decision making with their physician when selecting a colorectal cancer screening test so that they understand the benefits and harms,” Hood said in the statement . “The success of any screening program, especially colorectal cancer screening, is dependent on the appropriate testing and follow-up of patients with abnormal screening results as well as following up with patients for repeat testing at designated intervals.” The College does not recommend continued screening for adults over 75 because the harms – such as the need for biopsies if something is found – would outweigh the benefits at that age because the cancers may be too slow-growing to ever cause a problem. The College’s position statement is available online in the March 6 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine . Colon cancer is expected to take more than 51,000 American lives this year, second to only lung cancer. A recent study says the procedure actually saves lives. It found people who got a colonoscopy were 53 less likely to die from colon cancer than people who weren’t screened, HealthPop reported. “There’s no question that these are findings that we can take to the bank,” Robert Smith, director of screening at the American Cancer Society, said at the time.
Two other recommended screening methods, however, also greatly reduce colon cancer mortality, the researchers found. Flexible sigmoidoscopy provides a 40 percent lower risk of dying from colon cancer, while annual fecal blood testing offers a 32 percent reduced death risk. “The inclusion of all these tests in the guidelines of major organizations continues to make sense,” said Dr. Durado Brooks, director of prostate and colorectal cancers for the American Cancer Society. “Quite honestly, many patients don’t have access to colonoscopy or are not willing to undergo a screening colonoscopy. Many studies have shown that offering patients options will increase the likelihood that they will complete some form of screening, and that is what is most important.” The results come from a pair of studies testing the long-term health benefits of screening for colon cancer. The first study investigated the use of colonoscopy and flexible sigmoidoscopy among a group of almost 89,000 health professionals during a 20-year period. Colonoscopy uses a thin tube equipped with a camera to examine the entire length of the colon in a procedure for which patients are usually sedated. Flexible sigmoidoscopy is a similar procedure but with a shorter tube that examines less of the colon, so patients do not have to be sedated. The study found colonoscopy was more effective in preventing cancer throughout the entire colon, but that both procedures greatly reduced the overall risk of colon cancer death, said Dr. Andrew Chan, an assistant professor at the Massachusetts General Hospital Gastrointestinal Unit and the co-senior author of the report. “Colonoscopy was superior to flexible sigmoidoscopy in terms of reducing the risk of colon cancer throughout the colon,” Chan said. “But this study really does support the existing guidelines and recommendations for individuals to undergo screening with either colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy.