Study shows benefits of colonoscopy are less than expected

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Oct. 10, 2022 — Colonoscopy may not offer as many benefits as we previously thought, according to a surprising new study from Northern Europe.

After a 10-year follow-up study of people who were invited to have a colonoscopy, the researchers compared their results to a group of people who had not taken part in cancer screening. The former group had only an 18% reduced risk of developing colon cancer, and the procedure did not make much of a difference in colon cancer deaths, results published in show The New England Journal of Medicine.

Colon cancer—the second most common cause of cancer in the United States and the third most common worldwide—is common in adults over the age of 50.

During a colonoscopy, the doctor inserts a small camera through your anus to examine your colon and rectum (also known as your colon).

“The absolute risks of colorectal cancer risk, and even more so colorectal cancer-related death, were lower than in previous screening studies and lower than we anticipated when the study was designed,” says Michael Bretthauer, MD, a gastroenterologist from the University of Oslo School of Medicine in Norway and lead investigator of the study.

If you hate colonoscopies, don’t start jumping for joy just yet. The study also had its weaknesses.

Just under half (42%) of people invited to have a colonoscopy actually received one.

“It’s hard to assess the value of a screening test when a majority of study participants haven’t done it,” said William Dahut, MD, chief scientific officer at the American Cancer Society.

However, study patients who underwent colonoscopy had a 31% reduced risk of colon cancer and cancer-related deaths fell by half compared to patients who were not screened. This result indicates the value of continued screening.

Colorectal cancer screening remains the best method of prevention, says Dr. Karen Knudsen, Chief Executive Officer of the American Cancer Society.

“The American Cancer Society recommends colorectal cancer screening, including colonoscopy, for adults age 45 and older,” says Knudsen. “There is no reason to change this direction. Recommended cancer screening should be a routine part of good health.”

Click here for more information on colorectal cancer screening.



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