Dr. Perry J. Pickhardt/ University of
Wisconsin Medical School/AP

An image from a "virtual colonoscopy."

Colon Exams Should be Less Frequent, Less Invasive

September 19, 2008 03:35 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
New research finds that virtual colonoscopies are just as effective as more invasive screening methods, and that screenings can occur at longer intervals.

Two New Studies Released

The findings of two studies were published in the Sept. 18 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

One study found that a less-invasive screening procedure called computed tomographic (CT) scans are just as effective in detecting pre-cancerous growths as optical colonoscopies, which involve inserting a probe into the rectum. The CT scans also cost less and don’t require sedation.

“This is a landmark study,” said co-author Judy Yee, MD, of the University of California, San Francisco, to ScienceDaily. “It demonstrates that CTC is a practical alternative to other, more invasive methods of colon cancer screening. The hope is that these results will encourage more health care payers to cover screening CT colonography.”

The other study found that all of the 1,256 patients who had tested negative for growths had not developed cancer five years later. Dr. Thomas Imperiale of Indiana University School of Medicine concluded in the study that “for patients with low-risk factors, a ten-year interval between screenings is sufficient,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

Screening rates of colorectal cancers, which are the second-leading cause of death from cancer in the U.S., are low because screening methods are invasive and uncomfortable, says Yee. As most colon cancers are identifiable by pre-cancerous growths, screening is essential, she adds.

Background: Colon cancer

It is recommended that everyone over the age of 50 receive exams to prevent colon cancer. The exams are used to find and remove benign growths before they become cancerous. They can be expensive, however, and uncomfortable, as they require bowel penetration with the aid of strong laxatives.

Cancer of the large intestine and rectal cancer make up the colorectal cancers. Most cases start out as adenomatous polyps, or small, noncancerous (benign) clumps of cells. Screening tests help to identify polyps before they become colon cancer. Symptoms of colon cancer include changes in bowel habits, bloody stools, cramping and abdominal pain.

About 150,000 people will be diagnosed this year with colorectal cancers, which will claim nearly 50,000 lives in the U.S. in 2008, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). But the ACS also says that more people are surviving their bouts with the cancers and that instances of the disease have been falling for the last 15 years.

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