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Atkin said the test only needed to be done once because polyps that grow in the bowel appear before age 60 -- so any potentially cancerous growths should be caught if the test is done on people in their fifties. But the test only works on the lower bowel, so other exams, like the fecal blood test, would still be necessary.
Dr. David Ransohoff of the departments of medicine and epidemiology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina, said the Lancet findings might make doctors rethink whether the less-invasive flexi-scope test to scan the lower bowel, plus a highly sensitive fecal blood test to scan the upper bowel, could be better than a colonoscopy. Ransohoff was not linked to the study and wrote an accompanying commentary in the Lancet.
Ransohoff said the finding the test only needed to be done once in a person's lifetime was "striking" and further follow-up was necessary to see just how long this protective effect lasts.
Dr. Durado Brooks, director of prostate and colorectal cancer at the American Cancer Society, said the study results would not change their colon cancer screening guidelines.
"We have long included (flexi-scope) tests as one of our preferred tests to prevent disease," he said. "I would hope clinicians look at this information and recognize there is some value in this test."
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