One key to beating cancer often lies in early detection. This fact forms the basis for cancer screening guidelines. Researchers recently looked at how colorectal cancer screenings impact the course of the disease.
Patients tended to have less advanced disease and a better outlook when their colorectal cancer was detected by colonoscopy.
These patients were at significantly lower risk of death, had lower cancer recurrence (return) and longer periods during which the disease did not get worse compared to individuals whose colorectal cancer was not picked up with colonoscopy.
Ramzi Amri, MSc, and colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts conducted the study.
Colonoscopy screening involves examining the entire length of the colon with a thin scope called a colonscope. This procedure has been available since 2000.
"Screening colonoscopy is believed to be a major contributor to the consistent decline in the number of colorectal cancer diagnoses in the United States over the last decade," the study authors wrote.
This year, an estimated 143,000 Americans will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and about 51,000 will succumb to it.
For this study, the researchers looked at the outcomes of patients who underwent colonoscopy and whose cancer was treated by surgery.
Participants included 1,071 patients, 217 of whom were diagnosed with screening colonoscopy and 854 of whom were diagnosed by other methods.
Screened patients had better overall outcomes as seen in a variety of measures:
- Patients who had not been screened were more likely to see the cancer return — 13.1 percent compared to 6 percent of screened patients.
- Screened patients had lower death rates than unscreened patients — 8.8 percent versus 26.5 percent.
- The time during which the disease did not worsen was longer for those screened compared to those who were not screened — an average of 196.1 weeks versus 157.4 weeks.
"Compliance to screening colonoscopy guidelines can play an important role in prolonging longevity, improving quality of life, and reducing healthcare costs through early detection of colon cancer," the authors wrote.
This study was published June 19 in JAMA Surgery.
The research was supported by Harvard Catalyst/The Harvard Clinical and Translational Science Center, the Dutch Cancer Society, the Dutch Digestive Society, the Amsterdam University Funds and the Fulbright Foundation.
No conflicts of interest were disclosed.