A colonoscopy every 10 years reduces the risk of colorectal cancer by 40%

Colonoscopy, if performed every 10 years, can decrease the 1.2 million cases of colorectal cancer diagnosed each year by 40 percent. The study was conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health and published in September 2013 in the New England Journal of Medicine. In Brazil, colorectal cancer killed 13,344 people in one year (source: Instituto Nacional de Câncer-INCA, 2010) and in the United States more than 50,000 people will die from this type of cancer in 2013 (source: CBSNews, 2013).   

Colonoscopy is a visual examination of the colon performed using a probe. The test is usually performed under general anesthesia. It acts in the prevention of colorectal cancer, helping to identify polyps and their immediate removal. Thanks to this technique there is a reduction in the probability of developing colon cancer. Colonoscopy is a diagnostic method, but also a therapeutic one, since there is the possibility of removing polyps and other tumor tissues.

In the Harvard University study, researchers analyzed data from two large studies involving nearly 90,000 participants, who were asked to fill out a questionnaire every two years about their health and mention whether or not they had a colonoscopy. These two large studies were carried out between 1988 and 2008.

During this period, there were approximately two thousand cases of colorectal cancer and 474 deaths. Both sigmoidoscopy (a quicker but less effective test) and colonoscopy allow for the detection of tumors in the lower part of the colon and rectum and are associated with a decrease in the number of deaths and cases of colorectal cancer.

Note that only colonoscopy can protect against tumors that develop in the upper part of the colon and rectum. “According to our calculations – say the authors – if all participants had undergone a colonoscopy, there would be 40% fewer diagnoses of these tumors”.

Researchers recommend performing a colonoscopy every 10 years starting at age 50, unless medically recommended (some people should have this exam before age 50, for example, when there is a family history of cancer).

Vitamin D intake  , weight control, a healthy, balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and regular exercise are equally important in preventing colorectal cancer, according to Dr. Ogino, who participated in the study and collaborates for the American media CBSNews.

By  Xavier Gruffat  – Pharmacist, September 30, 2013, Copyright photo: Fotolia.com

Information about the study (metadata)

Study name (usually in English)publication dateMediaInstitution, University
Long-Term Colorectal-Cancer Incidence and Mortality after Lower Endoscopy19.09.13New England Medical JournalHarvard School of Public Health (USA)
Jeanne Kenney
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