You'd think after all that yammering about the rise of technology that we'd have abandoned colonoscopy for a less invasive procedure.
It hasn't happened, and the test is still recommended despite a study out of Canada showing that it prevents only 60 to 70 percent of colon-cancer deaths, instead of 90 percent.
Fox Chase Cancer Center gastroenterologist David Weinberg worries that a hasty reading of the study, published last week in the Annals of Internal Medicine, will discourage people from getting a lifesaving procedure. Colonoscopy is recommended once every 10 years after age 50 - earlier if there's a family history or other risk factors.
'"People walk from the headlines saying it's not worth it - they worry that it hurts, it's messy, it's invasive and it's embarrassing."
But it really isn't that bad compared with getting cancer, he said. It can detect cancers early, while still treatable. And while the doctors are in there, they can prevent future cancers by removing any precancerous growths.
But you should not let just any doctor explore your colon with a lighted flexible metal tube. "If I were a patient, I'd make sure I got my colonoscopy done by someone who knows what they're doing," Weinberg said. And that means going to a gastroenterologist.
Unfortunately, lots of other people seem to want to get in on the fun and profit associated with the procedure, such as surgeons, internists and general practitioners. His take-home message: Get the right specialist and get it done.
Colon cancer strikes one in 18 to 20 people, he said, and up to 50 percent of people who get the disease will die from it. Less invasive "virtual colonoscopy" is being developed, but if any precancerous cells are found, you'll be in for a colonoscopy anyway, Weinberg said. "There's a utility in one-stop shopping."