Smokers run a greater risk of developing colorectal polyps, and they should be screened at an earlier age.

Researchers at Stony Brook University in New York State analyzed the medical records of 1,566 patients who had a screening colonoscopy between December 1999 and April 2002. They found the incidence of polyps was higher among current smokers than ex- or nonsmokers.

"It is well established that family history of colon cancer is predictive of colorectal polyps, but our statistical analysis indicates that being a current smoker is equally predictive," says Dr. Rajeev Attam, the study's lead author. "Polyps were found in about 19 percent of ex-smokers and about 17 percent of nonsmokers, whereas 25 percent of smokers had polyps."

Besides examining patients' colonoscopy results, the researchers reviewed data for age, sex, family and personal history of colon cancer, smoking practices, alcohol and wine consumption habits, fruit and vegetable intake, body mass index, weekly exercise routines and history of inflammatory bowel disease.

"Perhaps an even more important finding is that a much larger proportion of the smokers had more than two polyps, had a polyp larger than one centimeter, or had a polyp with a greater potential for malignancy. These differences had high statistical significance," says Attam.

It is currently recommended that people with no family history of colon cancer get screened at age 50. Based on the research, Attam says physicians should consider an earlier screening of patients who are smokers.

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