What you should know about the new colorectal cancer screening recommendations

In November 2019, the American College of Physicians released a new guidance statement that recommends screening of people with an average risk for colorectal cancer aged 50–75.

Of all cancer types, colorectal cancer ranks second in cancer-related deaths in the United States. Although it’s possible that a person of any age—whether a teenager or someone in their 20s, 30s, or 40s—can develop colorectal cancer, its risk is known to be more age-related.

That’s why the new average-risk patient guidelines recommend colorectal cancer screening for people between 50–75. People in this age bracket have an average risk for colorectal cancer when:

• They have no prior precancerous polyps in the colon.

• They have no family history of colorectal cancer.

The second component of the guide statement is that a doctor should select a type of screening for their patient based on discussion of the benefits, harms, cost, availability, frequency, and patient preferences. I bet most people automatically think of the dreaded colonoscopy when it comes to colorectal screening. The new recommendations, though, include:

• Fecal (stool) immunochemical testing or guaiac-based fecal occult blood testing every two years.

• Colonoscopy every 10 years. According to diagnostic accuracy data, colonoscopy screening has a success rate of 75–93% for detecting adenomas of at least 6 mm in size, and a success rate of 89–98% for detecting the larger ones of at least 10 mm in size.

• Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 10 years plus fecal immunochemical testing every two years. No diagnostic accuracy data are available for flexible sigmoidoscopy.

Importantly, the new guidelines don’t address people who have a higher than average risk, so it’s important for patients to share their complete history with their physician and discuss what’s right for them.

As a Houston, Texas medical malpractice attorney, I have handled a variety of cases that directly or indirectly involved colorectal cancer.

One common area of serious injury occurs when the physician performing the colorectal cancer screening provides a patient with a false negative. In other words, the doctor tells the patient that they’re cancer free when that, in fact, is not the case. As you can imagine, the delay in treatment can have a devastating impact on the patient, including making what was once a treatable disease terminal.

In some cases, the physician performing a colonoscopy accidentally perforates the colon. It surprises many people to find out that experts don’t consider this in and of itself a violation of the standard of care. Instead, the problem is in failing to detect and treat it. If this isn’t detected and surgically repaired, leaking of the colonic contents can lead to a massive infection, sepsis, and even death.

Finally, general or colorectal surgeons attempting to resect or remove colon masses can fail to use a proper technique, resulting in lacerating important blood vessels, such as the superior mesenteric vein. The standard of care requires surgeons to identify the operative field, including nerves and blood vessels, to protect them from injury during the procedure. The resulting blood loss can cause massive injuries to the bowels and vital organs, like the kidney and liver. In some cases, the patient doesn’t survive.

If you’ve been seriously injured because of poor colorectal care, then contact a top-rated Houston, Texas medical malpractice lawyer for help in evaluating your potential case.

Robert Painter
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Robert Painter

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him for a free consultation and strategy session by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.