Colonoscopy effectiveness

December 30, 2009 10:26:13 PM PST
There are new thoughts on colonoscopys and their effectiveness. Doctors say 46-year-old Cindy Martinez is lucky to be alive. After having some changes in her stool a year ago, her doctor followed up with a cat scan and colonoscopy, looking into the entire colon with a long scope.

"It turned out there was a massive tumor on the right side, It was a grapefruit sized tumor and I had to have surgery immediately," said Martinez.

With Cindy looking at you, the right side of the colon is where the cancer was located. The new study found that colonoscopy was more effective at finding cancers on the left side of the colon and was less effective finding them on the right.

Dr. Richard Whelan is Chief of Colorectal Surgery at St. Luke's-Roosevelt and he says there are several reasons for these results, and that they should not stop people from getting the screening test.

"The percentage of the cancers you would miss if you employed that policy would be on the order of 40% this is not a small percentage of cancers that happen," says Dr. Whelan.

Doctors can see the right side of the colon as well as the left, but there are other factors that might make right sided cancers harder to see.

First, it's harder to clean the stool from the right colon, which may obscure cancers. Also, those cancers are flatter and harder to find than those on the left.

And some doctors may not spend the suggested eight minutes to do a complete colon exam. But for most of us, the point of colonoscopy, says Dr. Whelan, is not to find cancers, but it's to prevent cancers by catching benign growths before they become cancers.

"Being able to tell a patient that they have an adenoma a benign lesion, which we can easily take care of, we'll know they're at a higher risk of future adenomas," says Dr. Whelan.

Dr. Whelan says if you've had the test and are concerned about this study, you can ask your doctor if he or she was able to examine the right colon well during the procedure.

As for cindy, her surgery was completely curative, and she now has a website, to educate Latinos and Latinas about colon cancer.