Plus safer, less invasive screenings to ask your doctor about
It was about five years ago when I first divulged to my readers the hazards of “routine” cancer screenings—particularly colonoscopies.
Make no mistake, a colonoscopy is a highly invasive procedure—and certainly one you shouldn’t chalk up as being “routine.”
And while this type of cancer screening is necessary in some cases, I’ve often shared with you the safe, inexpensive, and convenient alternatives that are effective for most people, most of the time.
I was, of course, attacked and criticized bitterly about not drinking the colonoscopy Kool-Aid like “everyone else.” The so-called “experts” came out of the woodwork in attempts to expose flaws with my detailed warnings and alternative recommendations.
One arrogant character in particular, who calls himself “Doc Gumshoe” (not an MD or a PhD), made sure to get in on the act. He couldn’t question my facts, so instead attempted to castigate us for not being in a position to publish all our information completely free of charge. This all from a source without any health credentials whatsoever, and who makes his living by pushing stock market and financial hype.
Yet, as time has gone on, my concerns and early warnings about colonoscopies have only been validated in scientific literature time and time again.
In fact, some brand new research shows that colonoscopies can quadruple your risk of a potentially deadly attack of appendicitis. I’ll tell you more about that shocking news in just a moment, along with important information on safe, noninvasive alternative screening options for colon cancer.
But first, let’s take a quick look back at the gruesome history of this so-called “routine” procedure.
The well-known, fatal side effects of colonoscopies
There’s a deadly list of colonoscopy complications medical professionals have known about for a long time—such as perforation of the colon, laceration of the liver, and obstruction of the abdominal and intestinal blood supply.
Indeed, I’ve observed each of these kinds of fatalities in my previous career as a medical examiner, and also in my consulting practice in forensic medicine and pathology. And it turns out, the statistics have borne out my own observations regarding the unacceptably high complication rate for a “routine” procedure. A procedure that tragically, more often than not, was unnecessary in the first place.
Not only that, but there have also been numerous recent reports about contaminated medical devices being used in the GI tract and causing fatal “super bug” infections. The FDA regulators were asleep for years regarding the safety problems with these devices. That’s just abominable.
It got so bad that in the summer of 2017, I started a citizens’ petition called “Safe Colon Cancer Screenings.” The petition called for more government transparency about the costs, dangers, and impracticality of “routine” colonoscopies as currently practiced in the United States. It said that implementation of “routine” colonoscopy should be limited, and replaced with safer, effective tests, as has already been done in other countries worldwide.
And now, there’s even more evidence about colonoscopy’s dangerous side effects.
Colonoscopy’s link to IBS and appendicitis
In one of my recent Daily Dispatch e-letters (titled “Colonoscopies present grave dangers to those with Irritable Bowel Disease”), I wrote about a large new study showing that people with ulcerative colitis had a 30 percent higher rate of colonoscopy complications, and increased risk of colon perforation, sepsis, and blood infections. And people with Crohn’s disease had a 60 percent higher risk of complications from a colonoscopy. (To retrieve this article from my e-letter archives, simply enter the article title in the right-hand search bar via www.DrMicozzi.com.)
The irony here is that colonoscopies are supposed to guide clinical diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, and management of inflammatory bowel diseases like colitis and Crohn’s. But instead, this “routine” procedure creates more health hazards.
And if that weren’t bad enough, researchers have just discovered that performing colonoscopies can even cause appendicitis.
How a colonoscopy can land you in the emergency room
Appendicitis may sound old fashioned, but it still affects 7 percent of the population—and can be deadly.
In fact, appendicitis led to the death of Dr. Walter Reed, who discovered the cause and prevention of yellow fever in the late 19th century, while serving as director of the Army Medical Museum. I served in the same position as Dr. Reed a century later, at what became Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Dr. Reed died of appendicitis in 1902 at the relatively young age of 50. This is the same age at which people today are urged to undergo “routine” colonoscopies, which, ironically, could lead to appendicitis, according to this new study.
In a younger person, appendicitis can be identified either through a visible inflammation of the appendix or abdominal cavity. Within a day, the appendix can rupture, causing death—which is why rapid surgical intervention is so important.
As we age, the appendix and associated tissue become older and less active. As a result, appendicitis can be lower grade and may smolder undetected for days—until the appendix suddenly ruptures, causing a quick death if surgery isn’t performed immediately.
In 2002, I investigated the case of a U.S. veteran who was admitted to the VA Hospital in Washington D.C. with vague symptoms of fever and abdominal discomfort. Over the course of a week, he spent most of his time waiting in hallways on a gurney for medical care.
Doctors evaluated him for heart attack, stroke, peptic ulcers, metabolic disorders, and just about everything else—except appendicitis.
He released himself after a fruitless week in the hospital, despite still suffering a fever. So this poor veteran went home, where sadly, he died later that night due to a ruptured appendix.
Suffice it to say, the latest news of colonoscopies causing appendicitis is something that hit me in the gut, so to speak.
Colonoscopies quadruple the risk of deadly appendicitis
Researchers at the University of North Dakota in Fargo noted that a number of patients “suddenly” came down with appendicitis after undergoing colonoscopies—some within a few days after the procedure. So they decided to investigate.2
The researchers looked at data on nearly 400,000 veterans across the U.S. who had undergone “routine” colonoscopies between January 2009 and June 2014. They found that during the week following a colonoscopy, the rates of appendicitis were at least four times higher than during the other 51 weeks of the year. By some measures, the rate was actually 12 times higher!
The researchers concluded that the extensive preparation of the GI tract prior to a colonoscopy may alter a person’ microbiome in ways that increase the likelihood of infection and inflammation. They also suggested that blowing air into the colon during a colonoscopy, which inflates the intestines so they can be examined, could adversely affect the cells lining the intestines.
The researchers didn’t appear to consider what seems obvious to me—that inserting a large foreign object throughout the colon damages tissue and disrupts normal bacteria and physiology.
And because the appendix is located at the beginning of the ascending colon, this could lead to potential damage to the appendix or tissue around it, or obstruct the appendix.
How to reclaim your colon health
Finally, after an increasing number of studies like the ones I just discussed, mainstream medicine is beginning to debate the appropriate use of colonoscopy screening.
Public health experts, who have access to the data, are recommending fewer colonoscopies over longer intervals for the general population.
But, as I warned you in a January Daily Dispatch (“Lowering screening age for colonoscopy would be a huge”), doctors who actually perform colonoscopies want more people to get these procedures more often, at younger ages.
So what’s the right choice for you?
5 safe, effective alternatives to colonoscopies
Flexible sigmoidoscopy has been shown to be much safer and less expensive than colonoscopies. And studies show that flexible sigmoidoscopy screening benefits can last an upwards of 16 years or longer.
Like a colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy involves insertion of a tube with a camera. But unlike a colonoscopy, it doesn’t require anesthesia and only takes about 20 minutes.
And it’s so effective that in Europe, doctors use sigmoidoscopy for colon cancer screening almost exclusively, instead of colonoscopies.
Granted, sigmoidoscopy doesn’t reach the upper colon, but in the August 2016 issue of Insiders’ Cures, I reported on research showing that colonoscopies aren’t so effective in the upper colon either. (You can access my newsletter archives by using your username and password to log into the “Subscribers Sign-In” section of www.DrMicozzi.com.)
Hemoccult testing detects blood in the stool. Research shows that fecal occult blood testing (FOBT) can decrease the risk of death from colorectal cancer by 33 percent. Not bad for a cheap, completely safe, noninvasive test you can administer yourself in the privacy of your own bathroom. (These tests are available at sites such as www.ezdetect.com, www.quidel.com, and www.amazon.com for approximately $25-$35.)
CT colonography is a simple, 15-minute CT scan that allows a radiologist to see anything that remotely resembles cancer, both in and around your colon.
In general, CT colonography should be administered every five years, but radiologists have worked out specific guidelines for individual cases—including instances of positive FOBTs and the frequent problem of an “incomplete colonoscopy.”
Camera pills for colon cancer screening were approved by the FDA in 2014. But unfortunately, the FDA approved them for secondary use (after a colonoscopy)—instead of as a safer, easier substitute for any type of colonoscopy. This may be the only example in modern medical history in which mainstream doctors don’t want their patients to simply swallow a pill!
The camera is about the size of a dietary supplement capsule. It takes multiple photos of your intestines, including the colon, over an eight-hour period as it passes through your GI tract.
A camera pill can see and take clear images of 25 feet of the duodenum and small intestine, whereas the endoscopes used in colonoscopies can only show the doctor about two to three feet of the upper intestines.
Camera pills can also identify polyps, cancers, and even any sources of GI bleeding. And they can find conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, diverticulitis, and ulcers.
DNA stool testing is beginning to gain wider acceptance as a colon-cancer screening alternative, particularly with the FDA approval (and Medicare coverage) of the Cologuard testing kit in 2014.
The procedure is simple. You send a stool sample to the lab, and the Cologuard test detects any blood in your stool. The presence of blood could indicate the presence of a tumor.
Plus, Cologuard can detect mutated DNA, which could signal cancer or a precancerous polyp. If the test is positive for cancer, then you may have another procedure, such as a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy, to remove the growth or polyp.
So the next time you visit the doctor and the word “colonoscopy” is used, be sure to ask about your options, or even bring in this very newsletter to discuss with your care provider.
As with all health-related matters, I suggest doing your own research. Look into the alternatives I recommended to determine what option would be best for you.
Don’t put your health at risk over a “routine” colonoscopy that you never really needed in the first place.
1“Association of Colonoscopy With Risk of Appendicitis. “JAMA Surgery, 2018; 153 (1): 90.