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Star Tribune tries to be cute about colonoscopy, misses boat on alternatives

We often write about incomplete, imbalanced stories we see about screening tests.

My local paper, the Star Tribune, published a doozie this weekend.

The online story headline was:  Baby boomers embracing colonoscopies

In print, it was:  Look At The Upside

The subhead was the same in either format: “From highway billboards to celebrities, everyone is talking about colonoscopies.”

The story discusses Minnesota Department of Health billboards that have received quite a bit of attention elsewhere – some of which focus only on colonoscopies.

And the story focuses primarily on colonoscopies.

There is no mention of flexible sigmoidoscopy.

There is no mention of traditional blood stool test kits.

Both of these are recommended by The US Preventive Services Task Force as screening tests for colorectal cancer along with colonoscopy in adults, beginning at age 50 years and continuing until age 75 years.

Yet the story goes out of its way to discuss a highly experimental test by a Wisconsin company.  It didn’t mention that the company released results this week that many analysts found disappointingAnd it found time to mention virtual colonoscopies.  The US Preventive Services Task Force states about both of these tests:  “the evidence is insufficient to assess the benefits and harms of computed tomographic colonography and fecal DNA testing as screening modalities for colorectal cancer.”

To get a sense of how imbalanced this story was, you should read Dr. Michael Kirsch’s piece, Is Colonoscopy the Best Colon Cancer Screening Test?– and he does colonoscopies. Or read some of what we’ve posted in the past about the writings of Dr. James Allison, Clinical Professor of Medicine Emeritus, University of California San Francisco:

There’s an important shared decision-making issue that the Star Tribune story completely ignored.  There’s a statewide Minnesota Shared Decision Making Collaborative that I’m part of that could educate the newspaper on these screening issues.

That is, if the newspaper’s goal is not simply to be cute about edgy billboards.


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