Regular Colonoscopies Cut Cancer Risk by 40 Percent

Regular Colonoscopies Cut Cancer Risk by 40 Percent

Getting a colonoscopy every 10 years once you hit age 50 can drastically reduce your risk of getting colorectal cancer, according to a new study.

Regular Colonoscopies Cut Cancer Risk by 40 Percent

By Amir Khan, Everyday Health Staff Writer | Follow @AKhanMedia
 WEDNESDAY, September 18, 2013 — Colorectal cancer kills more than 50,000 people in the United States every year, but it’s been unclear just how beneficial regular screening is – until now. Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) found that regular colonoscopy screenings, one every 10 years, could prevent 40 percent of colorectal cancers and save thousands of lives.

Colonoscopy is the most commonly used screening test in the U.S., but there was insufficient evidence on how much it reduces the risk of proximal colon cancer [cancer in the ascending or transverse colon] and how often people should undergo the procedure,” said Shuji Ogino, co-author of the study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and associate professor in the department of epidemiology at HSPH. “Our study provides strong evidence that colonoscopy is an effective technique for preventing cancers.”

The researchers analyzed data from more than 88,000 patients who filled out questionnaires every two years between 1988 and 2008 as part of the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. They found that 1,815 people were diagnosed with colorectal cancer over the time period, 474 of whom died. And when the researchers compared the number of people diagnosed to the number of people screened, they discovered that had all of the participants in the study undergone colonoscopies, 40 percent of those cancers would be been prevented, according to the study.

While guidelines recommending a colonoscopy every 10 years starting over the age of 50 have been in place since 2008, the exact effectiveness of the procedure was unclear, said Jennifer Davids, MD, an assistant professor of surgery and colorectal specialist at UMass Memorial Medical Center. The findings will make it easier to convince people to undergo the often uncomfortable procedure, she said.

“Physicians are empowered by this data, because we can say to patients, based on this study, that there is strong evidence that a colonoscopy is effective at preventing colorectal cancer,” Dr. Davids said.

However, the findings were not surprising, Davids said, because colon cancer is so easily detected.

“One of the things that makes colorectal cancer different is it is easy to diagnose, because that we know by looking if someone has cancer or pre-cancer,” Davids said. “But the absolutely magnitude of just how effective it is was unknown.”

But while the study shows the effectiveness of one screening every 10 years for people who are at a normal risk, some people require more frequent testing, Davids said.

“Patients with a family history of colorectal cancer or with a disease such as ulcerative colitis are at a much higher risk of developing the cancer,” she said. “Those types of patients should be screened earlier and more frequently.”

The findings, Davids said, could save thousands of lives in the long run, and said she hopes more people listen to their doctors and get screened.

“We’ve had these guidelines for a long time,” Davids said. “Now we finally have data to back them up.”

One thought on “Regular Colonoscopies Cut Cancer Risk by 40 Percent

  1. They are really not so bad to have done. they knock you out. The only problem I had, was they needed to take away my smart phone cuz I posted gibberish, on facebook, on twitter, via email, via text. I did not realize I had done this until many hours later when I really woke up.

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