Colonoscopies May Help Reduce Deaths From Colon Cancer

A study touting the benefits of colonoscopy received significant coverage, with the findings discussed on two national television news broadcasts, and in several online and print sources. Most sources portrayed the finding as confirmation of the screening tool’s ability to prevent colon cancer deaths, although some experts were skeptical of the findings. The CBS Evening News (2/22, story 10, 0:20, Pelley) reported, “You already know that colonoscopies are an important screening tool for cancer, but today we learned just how important.”

        NBC Nightly News (2/22, story 7, 0:25, Williams) reported that research published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) indicates that “colonoscopies do save lives.”

        In a front-page story, the New York Times (2/23, A1, Grady, Subscription Publication) reports, “A team of researchers…followed 2,602 patients who had adenomatous polyps removed during colonoscopies from 1980 to 1990.”

        Bloomberg News (2/23, Langreth) reports, “Through the end of 2003, 1,246 of the patients who had adenomas removed had died.” Just “12 of those deaths were from colon cancer, far lower than the 25.4 colon cancer deaths that would have been expected in otherwise similar patients in the general population, according to the study results.”

        The ABC News (2/23, Adams) “Medical Unit” blog reports, however, that “Dr. Rita Redberg of the University of San Francisco, editor of the journal Archives of Internal Medicine, was less impressed by the new study.” Dr. Redberg “said a major shortcoming of the study was that it did not factor in the so-called ‘healthy user effect.'” Additional physicians “contacted by ABC News agreed that it is difficult to make any conclusions from the study at hand.”

        Colonoscopies May Be Better Than Blood Stool Test For Finding Advanced Polyps. The AP (2/23, Chang) reports that a separate study published in the NEJM “found that colonoscopies did a better job of finding polyps than another common screening tool – tests that look for blood in stool.” Investigators looked at data on approximately 53,000 individuals who underwent either a “colonoscopy or a blood stool test.”

        HealthDay (2/23, Salamon) reports that the researchers “found that fecal immunochemical testing (FIT)…yielded similar detection rates as colonoscopy in finding cancerous lesions. However, colonoscopy detected more advanced polyps than FIT, though more people opted to participate in fecal testing.” Also covering either one or both of these studies are the Wall Street Journal (2/23, Winslow, Subscription Publication), the Los Angeles Times (2/23, Brown) “Booster Shots” blog, Reuters (2/23, Emery), WebMD (2/23, Boyles), Medscape (2/23, Waknine), and MedPage Today (2/23, Gever).

Study: Hepatitis C May Kill More Americans Than HIV

The AP (2/21, Neergaard) reports, “Deaths from liver-destroying hepatitis C are on the rise, and new data shows baby boomers especially should take heed — they are most at risk.”

        “Deaths attributed to hepatitis in the US rose during the past decade to surpass those from HIV,” Bloomberg News (2/21, Flinn) reports. “Researchers studied 22 million death records from 1999 to 2007, finding 15,000 died from hepatitis C alone, compared with 13,000 from HIV.” They found that “as many as 1.4 million people are living with chronic hepatitis B…and 3.2 million have hepatitis C, with two-thirds born from 1946 to 1964,” according to the study published in the Feb. 21 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

        MedPage Today (2/21, Smith) reports that “one-time screening and then treating people based on birth cohort – specifically those born from 1945 through 1965 – would be cost-effective,” argues a companion study in the same journal. Analysis revealed that “birth-cohort screening identified an extra 808,580 cases of chronic infection, compared with the status quo, at a cost of $2,874 per case.” In other words, “depending on the form of subsequent treatment, the screening would prevent between 82,300 and 121,000 deaths, with an incremental cost-effectiveness ratio per quality-adjusted life year gained ranged from $15,700 to $35,700,” the study calculated.

        According to HealthDay (2/21, Reinberg), “‘These data underscore the urgent need to address the health threat posed by chronic hepatitis B and C in the United States,’ said investigator Dr. Scott Holmberg, chief of the Epidemiology and Surveillance Branch in CDC’s Division of Viral Hepatitis.”

High-Speed DNA Tests May Be Used To Benefit Patients With Lung, Colon Cancer

Bloomberg News (2/13, Langreth) reports, “More than half of lung and colon cancer patients may benefit from high-speed tests that detect DNA flaws doctors can target with existing medicines,” according to a study published in Nature Medicine. Investigators “used a gene test…to sequence 145 cancer-associated genes in 40 colon tumor samples and 24 lung tumors.” The researchers “found that 53 percent of colon tumors and 71 percent of lung tumors had mutations that may be attacked with cancer medicines on the market or in human trials.”