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Fighting cancer

Posted: February 23, 2012 12:09 p.m.
Updated: February 24, 2012 5:00 a.m.

Not so long ago, we remarked that this country’s war on cancer, initiated by President Nixon more than four decades ago, had in many ways been a disappointment, with the death rate from various kinds of cancers still high. But in some areas, there have been great advances, and a new study released this week proved what many have believed all along: that colonoscopies are extremely effective in reducing the incidence of colo-rectal cancer. In patients tracked as long as 20 years, the death rate was reduced by more than 50 percent.

The colonoscopy, dreaded by patients because they must take powerful laxatives to clear the colon and bowels, is the subject of jokes and comedy routines. But its success is serious, as evidenced by these recent figures. Physicians, by using a scope, can spot polyps and remove them before they become cancerous. “For any cancer screening test, reduction of cancer-related mortality is the holy grail,” said Dr. Gina Vaccaro, a gastrointestinal oncologist at the Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health and Science University who was not involved in the research. “This study does show that mortality is reduced if polyps are removed, and 53 percent is a very robust reduction,” she said.

Some cancer screenings have come under great scrutiny lately, but this survey shows colonoscopies are extremely effective. Yet only six of 10 adults are up to date on getting screened; a higher rate would prevent the deadly disease from striking so many. The test is expensive, yet when compared to the cost of treating a cancer patient, it is cost-effective. This test reaffirms what many have asserted for so long and is one more reason for people to have colonoscopies -- even if they must endure the jokes about the procedure.

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