For years, I’ve said that there are serious flaws in some of the most common forms of cancer screening – especially mammograms for breast cancer, and the PSA test for prostate cancer. Yet these tests remain standard, in spite of their inaccuracy, simply because there are no alternatives.
But the colonoscopy is a different story. It’s the only form of early cancer diagnosis that gets my full support. And even though a recent study has found that colonoscopies only detect 60 percent of polyps, I still think they’re beneficial.
Unlike mammograms or the PSA, which can actually lead to false positives (and, eventually unnecessary and incredibly invasive surgeries), the colonoscopy is still safe and effective. Detecting 60 percent of polyps is better than none at all. Plus, there’s no danger of false positives with a colonoscopy.
The best way to get the most accurate results is to make sure you’re getting a quality colonoscopy from an experienced technician. Here are a few questions to consider when you’re scheduling your next colonoscopy:
- 1) How often does the doctor perform the procedure? Go with someone who does at least five per week.
- 2) How much time does the doctor spend doing the procedure? A 2006 study discovered that doctors who probed the intestinal tract with the colonoscope for at least six minutes found more polyps than doctors who probed for less time.
- 3) How often does the doctor remove polyps during a procedure? According to the national average, it should be about 15 percent of the time for women and 25 percent of the time for men.
Polyps are much easier to find in a squeaky-clean intestinal tract, so make sure you’re following any pre-procedure instructions your doctor gives you.
I know what you’re thinking: this procedure is awkward and uncomfortable enough without having to shop around and ask doctors for the grisly details of how skilled they are at scoping around you-know-where. Get over it. This test can save your life when it’s done correctly.