Colonoscopy May Sadly Not Reduce Risk of Dying From Colon Cancer, Study Shows

Regular colonoscopies have for many years been deemed crucial for middle-aged individuals – it’s become a rite of passage of sorts. Findings from a study released recently have now suggested that they may not be as helpful as originally reckoned.



Colorectal cancer is a major cause of cancer deaths – specifically, it’s the number two leading cause of such deaths globally. In the US, people are typically advised to have colonoscopies at specific intervals once they enter middle age to reduce their risk.

Read Also: The Taller You Are the Higher the Risk of Getting Colorectal Cancer Study Shows

This new research, which was carried out in Northern Europe, suggests that colonoscopies will do little or nothing to reduce the risk of a person dying from colon cancer. The results were published in The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).

Screening to reduce death risk

Research shows that the risk of death from colorectal cancer can be reduced through routine screening. Colonoscopy, which involves the insertion of a tiny camera into a person’s digestive tract, is one of the most widely-used screening methods.

Colonoscopies are commonly carried out or advised in America and most Western countries when a person reaches middle age. The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force urges that people have a colonoscopy done every 10 years once they reach the age of 45.

In some other countries, there is a preference for other methods of screening for colon cancer, including fecal testing. This is partly because of the dearth of randomized trials that convincingly prove the efficacy of colonoscopy.

There is, therefore, a need to better probe the benefits of colonoscopies that would make it preferable to other methods. A better understanding of this area may enhance colon cancer prevention and public health recommendations.

Read Also: NIH: Fecal Transplant Boosts Immunotherapy Response in People with Advanced Melanoma

Screening may make no difference to the death risk

The team in the current study probed the efficacy of colonoscopy invitations in Norway, Sweden, Poland, and the Netherlands in lowering the risk of death from colon cancer. It recruited more than 84,500 male and female subjects whose ages ranged from 55 to 64 years for the research. These people had not undergone colorectal cancer screening in the past.

The researchers randomly assigned the participants to get an invitation for a single screening or no invitation in a 1:2 ratio. In all, 28,220 subjects got an invitation for colonoscopy and 11,843 out of them (about 42 percent) had the screening.

Fifteen participants experienced major bleeding following polyp removal, the researchers said. However, no deaths linked to perforations or screening were reported within 30 days of screening.

The research team reported 259 colorectal cancer diagnoses in the group that received colonoscopy invitations after 10 years. By contrast, the group that received only normal care but no invitations had 622 cases. This implies a 0.98 percent risk of colorectal cancer among the invited subjects and a 1.2 percent risk in the other group.

While colonoscopy invitations reduced the risk of having colorectal cancer by about 18 percent, the researchers noted that the death risk was almost the same for the two groups at 10 years.

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Don’t ignore colonoscopy yet

Many people that should have colonoscopies done often shy away from them. One of the reasons for this is the invasive nature of the procedure. Also, the preparation required in advance is by no means exciting.

Therefore, learning that colonoscopy may not reduce the risk of death from colon cancer may appear to be a reprieve. Not so fast! Don’t cancel your appointment yet if you have one scheduled.

Other experts have questioned the findings of this research due to some limitations. A major shortcoming that has been noted is that the death risk effect was based on everyone invited rather than only those who actually had the test.

“The conclusion derived in the study that an 18% reduction in colorectal cancer detection and nearly 0% lives saved due to colorectal cancer is misleading,” gastroenterologist Dr. Vanitha Bala, who was not part of the study, told Medical News Today. “If only the group that underwent screening [11,843 individuals] is considered, then the patient’s chance of colorectal cancer reduces by 31% (18% in the study), and the risk of death is reduced by 50% (0% in the study).”

Some of the colonoscopies performed were also said to be below the minimum standards in America.

On the positive side, this study at least confirmed that a colonoscopy could reduce the risk of having colorectal cancer.

Read Also: Emodin an Active Compound in Chinese Rhubarb Curbs Colon Cancer in Mice


Effectiveness of flexible sigmoidoscopy screening in men and women and different age groups: pooled analysis of randomised trials

Effect of Colonoscopy Screening on Risks of Colorectal Cancer and Related Death



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