Sigmoidoscopy Now Proven to Prevent Colon Cancer Deaths, But Will It Get Used?

A study from the National Cancer Institute’s Early Detection Research Group finds flexible sigmoidoscopy, which is similar to colonoscopy but less invasive and with fewer side effects, reduced the rates of new cases and deaths due to colorectal cancer. The findings come from the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian (PLCO) Cancer Screening Trials, which spanned almost 20 years. Researchers found that sigmoidoscopy reduced overall colorectal cancer mortality by about one-fourth, while incidence was reduced by 21 percent. These results appear online ahead of print in the New England Journal of Medicine.

But how will this change current clinical practice? Probably not much, if at all. Here’s what Durado D. Brooks, M.D., director, prostate and colorectal cancers had to say about the study and its implications.

“This study adds credence to the American Cancer Society’s consensus guidelines, which continue to support the use of flexible sigmoidoscopy as a screening option. The fact remains that the procedure is reimbursed by government and private insurers at a fraction of the rate as other tests, often making it a money losing proposition for providers.

“Without significant policy and reimbursement changes even this strong evidence of effectiveness is not likely to alter current practice, which favors colonoscopy, or lead to a resurgence of flexible sigmoidoscopy in the US.”

Still, as we like to say, the best test is the one you get.  The American Cancer Society recommends everyone at average risk begin screening at age 50. To learn more about the options available, see: “Can colorectal polyps and cancer be found early?” on

About David Sampson

I am the director of medical and scientific communications for the American Cancer Society national home office.
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