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Quick fix solution

A simple five-minute procedure cuts the risks of colon cancer.

health and fitness Updated: Apr 29, 2010 18:20 IST

A single, five-minute procedure to detect and remove growths from the colon slashes cancer rates by one-third and reduces deaths by 43 per cent, researchers have said. In a 16-year study involving more than 1.7 lakh people in Britain, it was found that a simple procedure known as sigmoidoscopy has lifelong implications for preventing the second-biggest cancer killer worldwide. The study results appear in the medical journal Lancet.

Lead researcher Wendy Atkin from Imperial College London, said everyone in Britain should be offered the exam at age 55, when pre-cancerous polyps are present and not yet deadly. Britons are now given a test that detects blood in the stool to diagnose cancer, a less effective approach that doesn’t prevent disease. The US recommends blood tests, sigmoidoscopy every five years, or more invasive exams known as colonoscopies once a decade.

Prevention instead of cure
“It’s extremely rare to see the results of a clinical trial that are as compelling as this one,” said Harpal Kumar, chief executive officer of the charity group Cancer Research UK. “It’s a no-brainer that this has to be introduced. Thousands of lives could be saved every year and tens of thousands of families could be spared the diagnosis of bowel cancer.”

The approach could ultimately save money by reducing the number of people undergoing treatment for bowel cancer, said Atkin, a professor of surgery and oncology. The researchers didn’t calculate the cost of the procedure, she said. Rolling it out would require additional training and expanded facilities to accommodate the demand, she said.

Done in no time
The procedure is done using a flexible tube slightly larger in diameter than a ballpoint pen that is threaded through the rectum and the bottom third of the colon, where two-thirds of colorectal cancers and pre-cancerous growths develop. When a growth is detected, it’s either burned off or removed in an additional step that can take four more minutes, researchers said.

While it’s not painful and doesn’t require sedation, patients must give themselves an enema before treatment.The study was funded by the Medical Research Council, the National Institute for Health Research and Cancer Research UK.