Background: In an effort to decrease the death rate from colorectal cancer, a multitude of medical societies and task forces recommend routine screening for colorectal cancer beginning at age 50. Yet, there is no consensus as to the best and most cost-effective screening method. Medicare now pays for screening colonoscopies for its average risk beneficiaries . Many insurance companies, however, will not cover this test in younger patients. We therefore reviewed our institution's colonoscopy experience with asymptomatic 50- to 59-year-olds, with negative fecal occult blood tests and negative family histories.
Methods: Between January 1999 and January 2002, 4779 colonoscopies were performed at our institution. The charts for 619 persons 50-59 years of age were retrospectively reviewed, with 91 patients meeting the strict requirements of this study. We defined polyps with high-grade neoplasias as those with villous or tubulovillous components, and cancerous lesions included those with carcinoma in situ. The distal colon was defined as the rectum and sigmoid colon.
Results: There was a 58% incidence of neoplastic polyps in this younger asymptomatic population. More than 4% of our subjects had high-grade neoplasias or cancerous lesions. In the absence of any distal findings, flexible sigmoidoscopy would have missed up to 38% of these polyps.
Conclusions: The findings generally support the recommendations by the American College of Gastroenterology for average-risk patients to preferentially undergo a screening colonoscopy at age 50 in lieu of other methods.