New Study: Lower Colon Screening Can Save Lives

Generally speaking, just having the words "colorectal" and "screening" in the same sentence is enough to send a shiver down the spine.

But thanks to a new, large study out of the United Kingdom, there's some colorectal screening news to smile about.

The study showed that a single sigmoidoscopy -- similar to a colonoscopy but less invasive -- reduced colorectal cancer mortality by 43 percent and incidence by about one third for participants between ages 55 and 64.

Researchers at Imperial College of London and the University College London studied 170,000 people and tracked their progress for more than a decade.

"The study is pretty exciting," ABC News senior health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser said. "[It was] really well done. ... Hopefully it will have a powerful impact and encourage more people to get screened."

The sigmoidoscopy is different from a colonoscopy in that it uses a fiber-optic camera to look only about halfway up the colon, rather than the whole thing, Besser said. It's also less expensive, less invasive and does not require sedation.

It also does not require a well trained medical specialist like a gastroenterologist, but a trained primary care physician, "which opens the procedure up to people who don't have access to a specialist," Besser said.

But Besser said the test is not the silver bullet for catching colon cancers.

"There is no one test that's right for everybody. Which you choose depends upon your level of risk and what procedures are available to you," he said. "Not all medical organizations agree which is the best way to screen, but all agree that screening is essential."

In 2009, nearly 50,000 people died from colorectal cancer and more than 100,000 new cases of colon cancer were diagnosed, according to the American Cancer Society.

Rectocolon Cancer: Other Types of Screening

In addition to the sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy, there are two other common types of screening for rectocolon cancer.

Annual stool screenings include an examination of the stool for what's called occult blood -- unseen blood in the stool, Besser said.

Another includes a variety of X-ray studies that serve as a kind of CAT scan of the colon along with a double-contrast barium enema.

"It is well worth having the conversation with your doctor about which is right for you," Besser said.

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