Good news for your butt! Research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggests that if your first colonoscopy comes back negative, you can opt for less invasive testing in the future without increasing your risk of colon cancer.
Researchers fed data from the National Cancer Institute’s database of colon cancer patients into a computer simulation to see how three different testing procedures—stool samples, CT scans, or standard colonoscopies—would spot colon cancer in a 60-year-old who previously tested negative for cancer with a colonoscopy at age 50. After running the model, researchers found that stool sample testing and CT scans were just as effective at spotting cancer as the more invasive colonoscopies.
So can you kiss the laxatives goodbye? It depends on your risk factors, like family history of the disease or diabetes, says Anthony Kalloo, M.D., Director of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. (Look out for 9 Colon Cancer Symptoms You Can’t Ignore.)
“A simulation is only as good as the data you feed it,” Dr. Kalloo says. And since the researchers only simulated for a man without risk factors, there’s no way of knowing how the non-invasive testing would compare in someone with a family history of colon cancer until someone runs that simulation, he says.
Your move: If the disease runs in your family or you show any risk factors—like a high-fat, low-fiber diet, or a history of smoking—stick with a colonoscopy every 10 years after age 50, says Dr. Kalloo. (You might need one earlier, too—click here to find out When You Need a Colonoscopy.) If not, ask your doctor about stool sample testing, a yearly test you can do at home and then send into a laboratory for analysis. It’s also a better option than CT scans, which can lead to unnecessary follow-up testing, Dr. Kalloo says.
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