MILWAUKEE -- Tell your doctor to take his or her time during your next colonoscopy. Physicians who spent less than the recommended six minutes on the crucial part of the exam found fewer than one-fourth as many precancerous growths as those who lingered longer with the scope, a study found.
It involved thousands of exams done by 12 doctors in a large private gastroenterology practice in Rockford, Ill. Doctors who spent the most time found 10 times more growths than those who zipped fastest through the procedure, said Dr. Robert Barclay, who led the study and published results in today's New England Journal of Medicine.
Most doctors are probably not tracking how long they take or how many growths they find, said Dr. Douglas Rex, chief of endoscopy at Indiana University and a spokesman for the American College of Gastroenterology.
Colonoscopy is the gold-standard test to screen for colon cancer, which will strike nearly 150,000 Americans this year and kill more than 55,000.
While the patient is sedated for the exam -- typically less than half an hour -- a doctor puts a thin, flexible tube into the bowel. As the lighted scope is slowly withdrawn, the doctor looks for growths called polyps.
These can take a decade to form and turn cancerous, so finding them early is one of the best ways to prevent the disease and improve the odds of surviving it.
Barclay and others at the University of Illinois College of Medicine and Rockford Gastroenterology Associates analyzed 7,882 colonoscopies done on their patients over 15 months, including 2,053 first-time screening exams. They clocked how long doctors took to withdraw the scope and compared it with the number, size, and type of polyps detected.