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Study Finds Removing Polyps Saves Lives

Colon cancer is one of the world's deadliest diseases, but it often has no symptoms in the early stages. That's why doctors urge adults over 50 to have a colonoscopy to detect any possible cancer.

Colonoscopies prevent deaths from cancer

New research confirms removing polyps detected during colonoscopies saves lives.

Colon cancer normally starts with growths called polyps inside the intestine.

Previous studies have shown that removing polyps can prevent colon cancer from developing.

The new study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, confirms that.

Researcher Ann Zauber’s study involves patients with a kind of polyp, known as an adenoma, that can develop into cancer.

"The adenoma is a precursor lesion for colon cancer, and if you remove that adenoma, then you can reduce the chance of having colon cancer and also prevent colon cancer deaths," she says.

Zauber, a biostatistician at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, and her team reviewed 2,600 cases in which patients had these pre-cancerous polyps removed. Then, they compared their death rates to the overall death rate.

"So we took a high-risk population [with] adenomas, and compared it with the general population, which had a proportion of it with adenomas, and showed that we were more than 50 percent lower than the general population rate."

Specifically, there was a 53 percent lower death rate among those who had a colonoscopy and removal of the pre-cancerous adenomas.

"The take-home message," Zauber says, "is that if you have adenomas removed, you get a long-term benefit. And that should mean good reassurance for people to have colon cancer screening."