A new study has found that there is a valid alternative to cancer-screening colonoscopies that also reduces the rate of bowel perforations in patients. However, medical experts warn that while sigmoidoscopy screenings can help catch colon cancer, they are not quite as effective as the traditional colonoscopy.
The study, which was published this month in the New England Journal of Medicine, examined the cancer screening results of 154,900 patients across the country over two decades. It was conducted by the Washington University School of Medicine, where about 1,700 of the study’s patients were located.
The results found that sigmoidoscopy, a minimally-invasive procedure that examines the rectum and the large intestine with a flexible scope, reduces deaths from colon cancer by 26 percent and new cases of colon cancer by 21 percent. Colonoscopies, which probe further into the colon than sigmoidoscopies, reduce rectal cancer and colon cancer by 53 percent, but come with a higher risk of medical mistakes and complications like bowel perforation and infection.
Doctors believe that the findings of this study could be extremely helpful for patients. Patients who avoid colonoscopies due to their associated bowel perforation complications may be more likely to choose a sigmoidoscopy than avoid colon cancer screenings altogether. At the same time, patients with a high risk of colon cancer who want the most accurate type of screening now know that colonoscopies are more likely to find or prevent colon cancer.
The bottom line: although 16 percent of colon cancer patients would have benefited from colonoscopies instead of sigmoidoscopies, a sigmoidoscopy screening is significantly better than not having a screening at all and can help reduce the number of people who are diagnosed with or who die from colon cancer.