America’s No. 1 screening method is overdiagnosing a jaw-dropping 92 percent of cases
The pressure to get regular colonoscopies is intense. Everyone from the CDC to Katie Couric shamelessly touts this screening method as the “gold standard” for detecting the polyps that they breathlessly warn could become deadly cancers.
Well, it turns out Katie and company are dead wrong.
A recent study reports that a whopping 92% of large colorectal polyps are noncancerous.
You read that right. Those large polyps that are detected during colonoscopies—and then often scraped out surgically because mainstream medicine thinks they will eventually become cancerous—most likely don’t have to be removed at all.
Meaning there’s no need for dangerous endoscopic or abdominal surgeries. And, most importantly, no need for dangerous colonoscopies if, like most people, you are at low or average risk for colon cancer (you’re older than 50 and have no more than one close relative who was diagnosed with colon cancer before age 60).
Which, of course, I have been saying for years. I only hope this study will finally help show the government political-science bureaucrats and deluded mainstream medical establishment that colonoscopies are far from the gold standard of screening tests. More like the tin standard, if you ask me…and other doctors who actually study the science.
Colonoscopies paving the way for massive colon “cancer” overdiagnosis
Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic reviewed the medical records of 439 patients who had a colectomy (surgical removal of all or part of the colon due to polyps or other bowel disease issues). All of the patients had polyps that were large but not diagnosed as cancerous prior to their colectomy.
After the polyps were removed, they were biopsied for cancer. The researchers found that just 37 of the patients—only 8%—had cancerous polyps.
This finding is particularly upsetting because, as the lead study author Dr. Emre Gurgun noted, “Colon resection doesn’t come for free—it’s a major abdominal operation associated with the risk of serious adverse events.”
In fact, nearly 20% of the patients in the study developed complications from their colon surgery.
The researchers recommended that less-invasive, endoscopic techniques be used to remove colon polyps rather than surgery. But what they unfortunately didn’t recommend is cutting back on the colonoscopies that overdiagnose these polyps in the first place.
The case against colonoscopies
This study is just one more nail in the colonoscopy coffin. As I’ve written before, there are many other reasons why you should consider alternative screening procedures for colon cancer.
Colonoscopy is portrayed as a benign, safe procedure for everyone. But in my forensic medicine practice I saw case after case of perforated intestines and peritonitis (a potentially fatal inflammation of the abdominal lining), lacerated and punctured livers with massive bleeding, and other fatal complications. All from “routine” colonoscopies.
I even had one case in which the air pumped into the colon (to inflate it for easy examination) escaped into the patient’s abdominal cavity. It put so much pressure on the liver that it cut off blood supply back to the heart. The patient died from shock.
You can also pick up infections and diseases from contaminated testing instruments used for colonoscopies (which is sadly becoming more common). Not to mention complications from the anesthesia you need for highly invasive—and painful—colonoscopies.
All of this might be acceptable if there were no other effective way to diagnose colon cancer. After all, even though colonoscopies too often detect polyps that aren’t cancerous, they can sometimes find the cancerous ones as well.
But the bottom line is that no study has shown that colonoscopy prevents colorectal cancer incidence or mortality any better than the other safer, less-expensive screening methods.
Better alternatives to colonoscopies
The good news is that unlike the doctors who believe the colonoscopy codswallop, I’ve done the research into other colon cancer screening methods that are safer, less expensive and, in many cases, more effective.
Here’s what I recommend you ask your doctor to consider as an alternative to colonoscopy.
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy has been shown to be much safer and less expensive than colonoscopies. In fact, as I wrote in the September issue of Insiders’ Cures, a new report cites studies showing that flexible sigmoidoscopy screening benefits can extend 16 years or longer. This 20-minute procedure involves insertion of a tube with a camera into your colon but, unlike a colonoscopy, it doesn’t require anesthesia. That’s because it doesn’t reach the upper colon. But the new report shows that colonoscopies don’t work as well in the upper colon either.
- Hemoccult tests detect blood in the stool. Research shows that fecal occult blood testing (FOBT) can decrease the risk of death from colorectal cancer by 33%. Not bad for a test that is cheap, completely safe, noninvasive, and that you can administer yourself in the privacy of your own bathroom.
- CT colonography is a simple, 15-minute CT scan that allows a radiologist to see anything that remotely looks like cancer both in your colon and your abdomen. In general, CT colonography is done every five years, but radiologists have worked out several more specific guidelines for individual cases—including instances of positive fecal occult blood tests, and to deal with the frequent problem of an “incomplete colonoscopy.”
- An ingestible camera pill was approved by the FDA in 2014 for colon cancer screening. The pill is about the size of a dietary supplement capsule. You swallow it, and it takes multiple photos over an eight-hour period as it passes through your GI tract. The camera pill can identify polyps, cancer, and even any sources of GI bleeding. It can also find inflammation, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, diverticulitis, and ulcers. Even though this amazing camera can take clear images of 25 feet of the small and large intestines—compared to the 2 to 3 feet of the upper intestines shown in an endoscopy—unfortunately, it has only been approved by the FDA for secondary use. Meaning it can only be used after an inadequate colonoscopy, rather than as a safer, easier substitute for any type of colonoscopy.
- DNA stool testing is beginning to gain wider acceptance as a colon cancer screening alternative, particularly with the FDA approval (and Medicare coverage) of a specific testing kit, called Cologuard®, in 2014.
Cologuard is designed to test for blood in your stool—which could indicate you have a tumor. It can also detect mutated DNA, which could signal cancer or a precancerous polyp. Only if the test is positive for cancer do you then have another procedure, such as a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy, to remove the growth or polyp.
The bottom line is that unless you’re at high risk for colon cancer, there is no reason to just blindly accept mainstream medicine’s insistence that you have a colonoscopy. Not only does it often not help, but in many cases colonoscopy can hurt—both your health and your pocketbook.
Sign the petition and take action today!
It’s high time the public was made aware of the risks associated with this so-called “gold standard” in cancer screening. Which is why I formed a citizen campaign called the Safe Colon Cancer Screenings Initiative. The goal of this initiative is to urge the U.S. Congress and the FDA to improve oversight, regulation, and patient safety for endoscopes, as well as to increase professional and public awareness of the safe, effective alternatives to colonoscopies.
And the first step is a petition that we intend to send to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Please consider supporting this important initiative—and adding your name to the petition. You can read more about the initiative, and take a few seconds to sign the petition, by visiting www.safecoloncancerscreenings.org.
And please, share it with everyone you know. This is a serious issue that affects every citizen—and it is up to all of us to demand better, safer care.
“Does Cancer Risk in Colonic Polyps Unsuitable for Polypectomy Support the Need for Advanced Endoscopic Resections?” J Am Coll Surg. 2016 Sep;223(3):478-84.