The Importance of Finding a Skilled Gastroenterologist

You probably performed quite a bit of research before buying your last home, car or cell phone. But how much time did you spend researching your gastroenterologist? New research shows that choosing an experienced gastroenterologist with a proven track record in adenoma (polyp) detection could reduce your risk of developing colon cancer by nearly half.

The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) reported the correlative research of 14 study authors who evaluated electronic health records from 264,972 screening colonoscopies performed between 1998 and 2010. From these records, the researchers identified 136 gastroenterologists to be evaluated. All physicians had performed at least 300 colonoscopies, with at least 75 of them being screening procedures. The doctors’ rates of adenoma detection varied from 7.4 to 52.5 percent.

The researchers ranked the physicians into five groups – known as quintiles – based on their rate of adenoma detection. They then evaluated patients’ records and found 712 cases of colon cancer that developed six months to 10 years after the screening. The results showed that patients whose doctor ranked in the highest quintile of adenoma detection were only 52 percent as likely to develop colon cancer as the patients whose doctor fell into the lowest quintile.

Patients of doctors in the highest quintile had a 43 percent rate of advanced tumors in comparison to patients with doctors in the lowest quintile, and only a 38 percent chance of dying from growth of an interval colon cancer (Source: Forbes).

The study results underline the importance of doctors’ skill level in performing colonoscopy procedures and how the detection and removal of adenomas can prevent colon cancer from developing. As explained in the NEJM blog, “each one percent increase in adenoma detection rate brought with it a three percent decrease in interval cancer risk and a five percent decrease in risk of fatal colon cancer.”

Both men and women should begin routine colonoscopy screening at age 50. Whether you’re looking for a gastroenterologist or you already have one, be sure to ask for the physician’s adenoma detection rate, which should be at least 25 percent in men and 15 percent in women. Also ask for their average withdrawal time, which should be an average of six minutes. This the amount of time spent removing the scope from the colon, when the physician should be carefully examining for polyps (Source: American College of Gastroenterology). While physicians are not required to share this information with patients, their willingness to do so is always a good sign. And as a patient, it’s important to know that you should never be afraid to ask!