January 13, 2009

Primary care physicians can do colon exam

As baby boomers age, the number of people who need colonoscopies to screen for cancer is outpacing the number of endoscopists, U.S. researchers said.

Researchers at the Medical College of Georgia said the a booming aging population has increased the number of people over 50 -- the age when the American Cancer Society recommends beginning regular screening for colorectal cancer.

The key to changing that is catching the disease early through screening, Dr. Thad Wilkins said in a statement. With slightly more than 12,000 board-certified gastroenterologists, who perform endoscopy procedures like colonoscopies, the capacity for a national screening program is limited.

Resources to screen every eligible person for colorectal cancer do not currently exist in the U.S. medical system and, as a result, less than one-third of those who are eligible for colonoscopies are screened, Wilkins said.

Wilkins and colleagues from the University of Virginia Health System and Lexington Medical Center in Lexington, S.C., analyzed 12 studies of 18,292 patients who had colonoscopies performed by a trained and competent primary care physician.

In our study we found a very low complication rate -- only three cases of perforation and four cases of bleeding complications, Wilkins added. Each of these outcomes are comparable to published results by other specialists -- the take-home point is that colonoscopies performed by trained and competent primary care physicians can be just as safe and effective as those performed by other endoscopists.

The findings are published in the Annals of Family Medicine.