A new study was released on Thursday February 23, 2012, in the New England Journal of Medicine, entitled Colonoscopic Polypectomy and Long-Term Prevention of Colorectal-Cancer Deaths.
In this study, which was conducted by Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the medical records of 2602 patients who had pre-cancerous polyps removed during a colonoscopy, between the year 1980 and 1990 were used. They followed these patients for an average of 15.8 years, though some were followed for as long as 23 years. They noticed something unusual, in the general population, out of this number of people; the expected number who would die from colorectal cancer would be 25.4. In this group, who had the pre-cancerous polyps removed during the colonoscopy, it was only 12. This is a reduction of 53%.
The results of the study suggest quite strongly that having pre-cancerous polyps removed during a colonoscopy, can cut the risk of dying from colorectal cancer in half. This study followed an early study which had shown that removing pre-cancerous polyps helped prevent colon cancer from developing.
The lead author of the study, Dr Ann G. Zauber, a biostatistician at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, said in a press statement: “Our findings provide strong reassurance that there is a long-term benefit to removing these polyps and support continued recommendations of screening colonoscopy in people over age 50.”
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosis in both men and women. It is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States and the fourth in the world. More than 143,000 new cases of colon or rectal cancers are likely to occur in the U.S. this year and nearly 52,000 people will die from it, according to the American Cancer Society.
Colonoscopy is recommended as part of routine health care for both men and women after the age of 50. During a colonoscopy, in which a thin tube with a camera attached is inserted into the large intestine, if polyps are found, they are routinely removed and examined. They can show evidence of cancer or pre-cancerous conditions.
Many people dread the preparation that is required to take the test. The day before, no solid food is allowed and one of several methods is used to totally empty the colon. It is not a pleasant process. Sedation is used with the procedure so there is no pain involved.
In 1998, Katie Couric’s husband, Jay Monahan died of colon cancer, at only 42 years of age. In 2002, Katie underwent a colonoscopy live on the Today show in order to show people what the test involved and how it could save lives. Since that time, 20% more people have gotten the test compared to the number before that time. Known as the “Couric Effect” it has saved thousands of lives.
The general risk of developing colon cancer in the United States is about 6%. For this reason, it’s important for everyone, particularly people over the age of 50 years, to go for routine screening. According to the American Cancer Society that routine screening should include a flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years, or Colonoscopy every 10 years, or double-contrast barium enema every 5 years, or CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy) every 5 years. People who are higher than normal risk for colorectal cancer should follow their doctor’s recommendations.