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Colonoscopies not infallible when detecting colorectal cancer

A recent study found that colonoscopies, once thought to be an infallible way to detect colorectal cancer, may miss many cancers. A Canadian study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in December reported that a colonoscopy may miss a type of polyp, a flat or serrated lesion or an indented one that rests against the colon wall. While colonoscopies are still recommended as a highly effective way to diagnose and prevent colon cancer, the test is much less accurate than previously thought.

In the study, colonoscopies missed nearly every cancer in the right side of the colon, where about 40 percent of cancers develop. It also missed about one third of cancers in the left side of the colon. While doctors once told patients colonoscopies can prevent 90 percent of cancers, they may actually prevent only 60 or 70 percent.

One thought is that the Canadian doctors in the study may not have been skilled enough to perform the procedure. One third of the tests were done by general internists and family practitioners. This makes it important for patients to be proactive in ensuring the quality of their colonoscopists. They need to make sure they have adequate experience. Patients should also ask questions about how many polyps are found and removed and should also report symptoms like bleeding, even if they occur soon after the procedure.

Your colonoscopist should make sure that the bowels are sufficiently cleansed and that there is just a short time between when patients finish taking the strong laxative that cleanses their bowel and the colonoscopy.

Doctors should find polyps in at least 25 percent of men and 15 percent of women. They should take at least eight minutes to withdraw an endoscope from the colon. And they should do a high volume of screening.

About 148,000 people will be diagnosed with colon cancer this year, the American Cancer Society reports, and 50,000 people will die from it. Medical malpractice and misdiagnosis may be responsible for some of these deaths. Contact the medical malpractice lawyers at Rosen Louik & Perry to schedule a free consultation.