TUESDAY, May 10 (HealthDay News) -- Colonoscopy is significantly better than the less expensive screening procedure called sigmoidoscopy at detecting colon cancer in older patients, a new study says.
"We imagined there would be some difference, but there's a four-fold difference" between the two screening tests when it comes to detecting cancer, said study lead author Dr. Yize Richard Wang, a fellow at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla.
"Colonoscopy still remains the gold standard," added Wang, a health economist.
In the United States, colon cancer kills more than 51,000 people a year, according to the National Cancer Institute. Screening helps identify cancer before symptoms appear, when it may be easier to treat.
Colonoscopy, the most common screening test for colon cancer, involves threading a scope with a tiny camera through the length of the colon. But patients can also choose flexible sigmoidoscopy, which uses a shorter scope, costs less and may be more comfortable. However, sigmoidoscopy examines only half or less of the colon, Wang said.
Years ago sigmoidoscopy was the main screening test for colon cancer, but it has become less common over time. However, "from a patient perspective, the preparation and discomfort associated with a sigmoidoscopy is often considered less burdensome," said Dr. Thomas Semrad, assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of California, Davis Medical Center, who's familiar with the study findings.
Using a national database, the study authors examined the records of 52,236 patients 67 or older who underwent colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy between 1998 and 2005 and were diagnosed with colon cancer within three years of the procedure. According to the study abstract, 57,412 colonoscopies were performed, as were 3,523 sigmoidoscopies.
The percentage of new or missed left-sided colon cancers was 12 perc
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