New research finds that colonoscopy is very effective at reducing colon-cancer mortality when it includes removal of adenomas (benign but potentially pre-malignant polyps).

A study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine tracked 2,602 people who between 1980 and 1990 had adenomas removed during colonoscopy. The researchers compared the number of colon-cancer deaths among the study population with the projected number of such deaths among the general population. (The authors note that they couldn’t establish a true control group against which to make comparisons because it would be unethical and potentially harmful to patients to not remove detected adenomas.)

During the first 10 years of followup, 12 deaths from colorectal cancer occurred among the study group. But among the general population, the researchers determined, 25.4 people would have been expected to die of colon cancer during that time. That amounts to an estimated 53 percent reduction in colon cancer mortality associated with removal of adenomas during colonoscopy.

The findings add to the argument in favor of widespread screening via colonoscopy. But the authors point out that their research has some limitations, including the fact that people in the study received thorough colonoscopies and polypectomies from highly trained physicians. It is unlikely, they note, that everyone in the general population would have access to such top-quality care.

I just called my gastroenterologist to schedule my own colonoscopy. I had planned to do so for some time, but this study was just the, er, kick in the pants I needed.