April 2012

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Colonoscopies Cut Colon Cancer Deaths

Removing polypsGrowths on the inside lining of the colon or rectum. during colonoscopy can prevent colorectal cancerCancer of the colon or rectum, both part of the large intestine. and reduce deaths from the disease for years, a new study finds.

Colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers in both men and women nationwide. The disease is expected to kill more than 52,000 Americans this year alone.

Screening tests like colonoscopies can detect early-stage colorectal cancer before symptoms appear. In a colonoscopy, doctors use a long, lighted, flexible tube to examine inside the rectum and colon. Many growths they see, including polyps, can be removed during the procedure. Most polyps are benign, but some (called adenomas) can become cancer.

To see if polyp removal during colonoscopy might decrease deaths from colorectal cancer, a team of NIH-funded scientists examined data from over 2,600 patients who had adenomas removed.

During an average 16 years of follow-up, more than 1,200 deaths occurred in the group. But only 12 of the deaths were due to colorectal cancer. Among the general population, over 25 patients in a comparable group would have been expected to die from colorectal cancer. This suggests that adenoma removal could reduce the risk of dying from colorectal cancer by up to one half.

“Our findings provide strong reassurance that there is a long-term benefit to removing these polyps and support continued recommendations of screening for colorectal cancer in people over age 50,” says the study’s lead author, Dr. Ann Zauber of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Ongoing clinical trials will gather additional evidence to confirm whether colonoscopy screening can also reduce these deaths in the general population.