The Dreaded Colonoscopy and the Search for a Substitute

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Colon Cancer Among 'Least Prevented,' Expert Says

When Witkus finally had her colonoscopy three years after getting the prescription. She was shocked to learn that she had colon cancer. Had she undergone the test at age 50, her cancer and subsequent surgery to remove 6 centimeters of bowel would have likely been avoided, her doctors told her.

Witkus did undergo screening with fecal occult blood testing two years before her colonoscopy and said she had no problem with the more convenient and less-invasive test. The test was negative but is known to miss the majority of polyps. She hopes that an equally accurate but less invasive test will one day be available, adding that the colonoscopy prep was the worst part.

While the new test is far from perfect, Johnson said he believes it could be refined to improve its sensitivity. But there are other unknowns, including the cost of the test and whether insurers will cover it. Approval by Medicare often triggers other insurance providers to cover the test, but if it's too expensive, the test might struggle to gain acceptance in an increasingly cost-conscious health care market. However, the potential to prevent cancer in more people and avoid costly treatment will certainly help its case. The cost of treating colon cancer exceeded $14 billion in 2010, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Thankfully doctors were able to remove Witkus' cancer before it was too late. But she knows that she was lucky.

"I talk to everybody I can now about colon cancer," she said. Her advice? "Definitely get the colonoscopy."

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