Colonoscopies reduce deaths from colon cancer

No surprise here, but a new study touting the benefits of colonoscopy received significant coverage, with the findings discussed on two national television news broadcasts, and in several online and print sources.

Most sources portrayed the finding as confirmation of the screening tool’s ability to prevent colon cancer deaths, although some experts were skeptical of the findings. The CBS Evening News (reported, “You already know that colonoscopies are an important screening tool for cancer, but today we learned just how important.” NBC Nightly News reported that research published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) indicates that “colonoscopies do save lives.”

In a front-page story, the New York Times reports, “A team of researchers led by Dr. Sidney J. Winawer, a gastroenterologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, followed 2,602 patients who had adenomatous polyps removed during colonoscopies from 1980 to 1990.”

Bloomberg News reports, “Through the end of 2003, 1,246 of the patients who had adenomas removed had died.”

Just “12 of those deaths were from colon cancer, far lower than the 25.4 colon cancer deaths that would have been expected in otherwise similar patients in the general population, according to the study results.”

Additionally, “death rates from colon cancer were very low in a second group of 773 patients who were found to have harmless colon polyps during their colonoscopy.”

The ABC News “Medical Unit” blog reports, however, that “Dr. Rita Redberg of the University of San Francisco, editor of the journal Archives of Internal Medicine, was less impressed by the new study.” Dr. Redberg “said a major shortcoming of the study was that it did not factor in the so-called ‘healthy user effect.'” Additional physicians “contacted by ABC News agreed that it is difficult to make any conclusions from the study at hand.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that the research was funded in part by the National Cancer Institute.

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