How to make sure your doctor doesn?t miss colon cancer

June 26, 2007
Volume 04    |   Issue 26

Colonoscopies save lives. They find polyps in the colon that can lead to colon cancer if your doctor doesn?t remove them. The problem is colonoscopies aren?t always accurate. But here are some easy things you can do to get the most accurate results.

First, chose the right doctor. A lot of people will let an internist or family doctor do the job. They?re often easier to find and less expensive. But studies show that they?re more likely to miss cancers than a gastroenterologist. If a family doctor performs the procedure instead of a gastroenterologist, your risk of getting a false negative result almost doubles. Insist on a gastroenterologist.

A major reason internists and family doctors aren?t as reliable is because they do the procedure in their office. Studies show this is a big mistake. There?s a two to three times greater risk of missing a suspicious growth if you have your procedure done in a doctor?s office rather than at a hospital. Make sure you have your colonoscopy in the hospital.

Believe it or not, the time of day in which you have your colonoscopy really matters. Doctors are more alert in the morning than in the afternoon. In one study, there was a 2% higher rate of inaccuracy for colonoscopies that are done in the afternoon. That?s insignificant, you say? Not if your colonoscopy is one of those 2% that failed and you suddenly find you have colon cancer. This is an avoidable risk.

And, finally, ask your doctor to go slow. Doctors check for polyps in the mucous lining of the colon as they withdraw the colonoscopy wand. One doctor might take only three minutes to withdraw the instrument, while another could take longer than 15 minutes. Which is more likely to discover something suspicious? That?s right. The doctor who?s not in a hurry. In fact, doctors find four times as many polyps with the slower withdrawal times. Ask the gastroenterologist to take his or her time just to make sure they find anything that may be there.

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There are times when we can just follow our doctor?s recommendations for tests, and times to be more proactive. When it comes to a colonoscopy, you?re more likely to get accurate results when you ask your doctor to meet these four conditions.

Your voice of reason in Women's Health,


Bressler B, Paszat LF, Chen Z, Rothwell DM, Vinden C, Rabeneck L. Rates of new or missed colorectal cancers after colonoscopy and their risk factors: a population-based analysis. Gastroenterology 2007;132:96-102.

Sanaka MR, Shah N, Mullen KD, Ferguson Dr, Thomas C, McCullough AJ. Afternoon colonoscopies have higher failure rates than morning colonoscopies. Am J Gastroenterol 2006;101:2726-730.

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