4 ways to reduce your risk of colon cancer

January 04, 2008
Volume 05    |   Issue 01

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 you can take steps to improve the accuracy of your test. There are four things to consider for more accurate results: where and when you get your colonoscopy, what kind of doctor performs the procedure, and how quickly he or she does it.

Which doctor: Who does the best job, an internist or gastroenterologist? Studies show that an internist or family doctor is more likely to miss cancers than a gastroenterologist. Insist on a gastroenterologist.

Where: Which is best, going to a doctor?s office or a hospital? Choose the hospital. There?s a two to three times greater risk of missing a suspicious growth if your procedure is done in a doctor?s office rather than at a hospital. If a family doctor performs the procedure instead of a gastroenterologist, your risk of getting a false negative result almost doubles.

When: The time of day for your colonoscopy matters. Doctors are more alert in the morning than in the afternoon. In one study, there was a 2% higher rate of inaccuracy when the doctor performed the colonoscopy in the afternoon. That?s insignificant, you say? Not if your colonoscopy is one that failed and you suddenly find you have colon cancer. This is an avoidable risk.

Slow down: Doctors check for polyps in the mucous lining of the colon as the colonoscopy wand is withdrawn. One doctor might take only three minutes to withdraw the instrument. But another doctor 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. Doing so will greatly reduce your risk of getting colon cancer.

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;101:2726-2730.

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