Removing precancerous growths spotted during the test can cut the risk of dying from colon cancer in half, the study suggests. Doctors have long assumed a benefit but research hasn't shown before that removing polyps would improve survival — the key measure of any cancer screening's worth.
Some people skip the test because of the unpleasant steps needed to get ready for it.
A second study in Europe found that colonoscopies did a better job of finding polyps than another common screening tool — tests that look for blood in stool. Both studies were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States and the fourth worldwide. More than 143,000 new cases of cancers of the colon or rectum are expected in the U.S. this year and nearly 52,000 people will die from it, according to the American Cancer Society.
Deaths from colorectal cancer have been declining for more than two decades, mostly because of screening including colonoscopies and other tests, the organization says. People of average risk of colon cancer ages 50 to 75 should get screened, but only about half in the U.S. do.
A government-appoint-ed panel of experts recommends one of three methods: annual stool blood tests; a sigmoidoscopy (scope exam of the lower bowel) every five years, plus stool tests every three years; or a colonoscopy once a decade.
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