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Study says new screenings effective for finding colon cancers

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Researchers say a new screening technique is effective in reducing colorectal cancer cases and fatalities.

The findings, published online Monday in the New England Journal of Medicine, draw upon data gathered from 10 national research sites including the University of Minnesota. Nearly 29,000 U of M patients participated in the randomized trial that compared flexible sigmoidoscopy screening with people who received colon cancer screening only if they asked for it, or if their doctor recommended it.

Participants assigned to the sigmoidoscopy screening group had a 26 percent lower rate of colorectal cancer mortality than people in the usual care group. The sigmoidoscopy screening group also had a 21 percent lower incidence of colorectal cancer overall as a result of catching precancerous tissues earlier.

A sigmoidoscopy examines the lower colon. The procedure is less invasive than a colonoscopy which views the entire colon.

U of M principle investigator Timothy Church hopes patients who avoid colonoscopies might consider a flexible sigmoidoscopy.

"Individuals who want to be screened to colorectal cancer should choose the method that appeals to them the most — the one that they're the most likely to do," Church said. "The most important test is the one that you're going to do."

Many researchers suspect a colonoscopy is a more thorough way to test for all colon cancers. This study did not compare the effectiveness of a sigmoidoscopy to a colonoscopy.