Screening for colorectal cancer has shown to be effective and decrease the likelihood of death caused by colon cancer, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. University of Pittsburgh Professor of Medicine Dr. Robert Schoen, the lead author, said that the screening exam was not a full-blown colonoscopy.
"The study looked at flexible sigmoidoscopy, which is a test that is done on an outpatient basis, without any medication, and we looked inside the bowel and see if there are any polyps, or growths in the colon," Schoen said.
Half of the studied group received the screening and the other half was referred to usual care, or whatever treatment they would normally receive from their regular physician. Schoen adds that if any abnormalities were found, the subject was referred to their doctor for a colonoscopy to remove the pre-cancerous polyps.
"The results of the study showed a very significant reduction not only in dying of colorectal cancer for the group that went to the screening tests but even the development of colorectal cancer was reduced by 21%," Schoen said.
The study began in 1993 and is a part of the National Cancer Institute's Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian (PLCO) Cancer Screening Trial. It involved about 155,000 participants from ages 55 to 74. 17,000 of those were recruited from the Pittsburgh region. Of those who had screenings, the study documented a 26% decrease in colorectal cancer fatalities.
Schoen says that most insurance companies will cover the cost of a colorectal cancer screening. He recommends that men and women over the age of 50 as well as anyone with a family history of colon cancer should have screening exams.
"Not only do you pick up the cancer early," Schoen said, "but you prevent the cancer from even happening."