A new study released by the Archives of Internal Medicine suggests that many older Americans are getting unnecessary colon cancer screenings. From a random sample of over 200,000 patients, researchers found that over 70% of the repeat exams where “unnecessary.”
Colonoscopies are considered one of the most effecting cancer screening methods available, and researchers credit regular screenings with saving the lives of thousands of patients a year. Because of their efficiency, low-risk patients (with healthy results) should be tested every 10 years; however, the study found that many healthy patients were being seen every 7 years- an unnecessary frequency.
While many are concerned over the increased cost to Medicare, overly-frequent screenings can be risky and can make colonoscopy resources less available to those who really need them.
According to the latest statistics from the Virginia Department of Health and the American Cancer Society, Western Hampton Roads has one of the highest mortality rates from colorectal cancer in the state of Virginia. In fact, Portsmouth, with a rate of 24.8 percent, and Chesapeake, with a rate of 20.4 percent, have mortality rates much higher than the state average of 17 percent.
One possible explanation for this is our local demographic and the fact that colorectal cancer rates are much higher among African Americans. In fact, African Americans have the highest incidence of mortality rates from colorectal cancer compared to any other racial group.
Nearly 90 percent of all colorectal cancer cases would be preventable if everyone followed the guidelines for screening. Screening is essential, as most patients diagnosed with colorectal cancer display no symptoms of the disease until it is too late. National guidelines recommend African-Americans begin their screenings at age 45, and other populations are advised to begin their screenings at age 50. Those with a family history of colorectal cancer should talk with their doctor about when to begin screenings.
Our colorectal experts recommend that patients who have never had a polyp get a screening every 10 years. If you’ve had a polyp in your screening history, you should be getting a colonoscopy at least every 5 years.