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Swiss Med Wkly. 2005 Nov 19;135(45-46):679-83.

Colonoscopic findings of symptomatic patients aged 50 to 80 years suggest that work-up of tumour suspicious symptoms hardly reduces cancer-induced mortality.

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Department of Gastroenterology, University Hospital Insel, Berne, Switzerland.



The risk of colorectal cancer (CRC) starts to increase at the age of 50 years in average persons without special risk factors. The significance of clinical symptoms and frequency of endoscopies done at this age are hitherto unknown. We do not know the stage of colorectal cancers nor the distribution of advanced neoplasms in symptomatic persons above 50 years. These data are of interest to validate the necessity of screening programmes, to define the target population and to interpret results of screening studies in asymptomatic people.


Endoscopies of the colon performed from 1991 to 2000 in symptomatic patients aged 50 to 80 in the well-defined area of Uri were analysed retrospectively, focusing on symptoms leading to the endoscopy and the occurrence of neoplastic lesions.


Sixteen percent of the population at the age of 50-80 years had a colonoscopy for workup of symptoms. A CRC was found in 5.5% of all patients (83 of 1514 patients), in 12.3% of patients with tumour suspicious symptoms, but only in 0.3% of patients with unspecific pain. Stage of tumours was often advanced (82% T3/T4, 38% N1-3, 21% M1). In 2.6% of patients a colorectal cancer was found before the age of 60, mostly in men. Advanced lesions were more frequent in men, increasing with age.


A substantial part of the population above the age of 50 had an endoscopic workup of the colon for symptoms, what has to be considered when defining the target population and the necessary manpower of screening programmes. Tumour-suspicious symptoms were significant predictors for the presence of a CRC, but tumours were often already advanced. This underlines the importance to screen persons before developing symptoms.

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