Harvard Women's Health Watch

Other colon cancer tests may be good alternatives to repeat colonoscopy

There's more than one effective way to screen for colon cancer, according to researchers at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. After a negative colonoscopy at age 50, getting rescreened annually with a less invasive fecal occult blood test or fecal immunochemical test, or having a computed tomographic colonography (virtual colonoscopy) every five years is about as accurate as having another colonoscopy every 10 years, but is less expensive and less likely to cause complications.

Screening by any method significantly reduces the risk of colon cancer compared with not screening, found the Annals of Internal Medicine study, which used a simulation model to identify differences in colon cancer detection among the various testing methods. Colonoscopy every 10 years leads to the fewest colorectal cancer cases and deaths, but it also has the highest complication rate and is the costliest testing method. Although an accompanying editorial cautions that the simulation models used in this study can be "imprecise," the findings reinforce the idea that any colon cancer test is better than no test. Current guidelines recommend that women ages 50 to 75 get a colonoscopy every 10 years; a flexible sigmoidoscopy, double-contrast barium enema, or CT colonography every five years; or a fecal occult blood test or fecal immunochemical test every year. Talk with your doctor about which testing method is most appropriate for you.

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