Colonsocopy on Your Calendar? Here’s Some Good News. Maybe.

If you’ve never had a colonoscopy, you don’t know what you’re missing. And if you have had one, you’d be glad to miss the next one—but you know you shouldn’t, because it might just save your life. But there may be some good news: A recent study suggests that having just one colonoscopy might be enough for life.

Current guidelines recommend that starting at age 50, men and women should have a colonoscopy every ten years—unless they’re in a high risk group and/or their doctor recommends more frequent screenings.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Amy Knudsen, a researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital used computer modeling to evaluate four different colon cancer screening options for people who had a negative result on their first colonoscopy. Those patients (actually, “virtual patients,” since she was using computer projections) either had a colonoscopy every 10 years, a CT scan of the colon every five years, or one of two types of annual stool tests. There was also a group that got no screenings at all after the first colonoscopy.

Her results? For patients for an initial negative result, those who got either the CT scan or the stool tests were no more likely to develop and/or die from colon cancer than those who continued to have the every-10-years invasive test.

In addition, switching to CT scans and stool samples costs a lot less. Knudsen found that over a lifetime, it costs each patient nearly $4,000 to do the colonoscopies. The CT scans, however, ran just $166 per person, and the stool tests were $780.

As great as this study makes things out to be, we strongly suggest that you talk to your medical provider before you rush to the phone to cancel your colonoscopy appointment. There are a few reasons. First, many medical professionals think that colonoscopies are better at picking up pre-cancerous growths—something that may help to stop cancer before it starts. Second, the study was conducted with computer models and projections. We’d like to see some results using actual humans.

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